Aerial photo tour across countries and continents with a French photographer Yan Arthus-Bertrand
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The Laguna Merin basin is located on South America’s Atlantic coast, in a temperate or subtropical zone. It covers about 6 million hectares of which the Western part covers 18% of Uruguay whilst the other half is in Brazil. Its relief is made up of gentle undulations, vast plains in meadows and marshes. The climate there is subtropical and there is between 1.200 and 1.500 mm of rainfall a year. It is one of the country’s richest ecosystems in terms of plant life and wildlife diversity. An immense freshwater lake of about 4.000 km2, the Merin Lagoon, is of fundamental environmental importance. The survival of millions of migratory birds depends on the conservation of these marshes that are part of the Earth’s fifteen main migration routes. For a long time, these meadows rich in biodiversity were only disturbed by ranch livestock grazing but in the past twenty years, attacks on the environment have reached new heights with the development of rice growing. Over the past century, half the Earth’s wetlands have dried up.
Mangrove swamps are aquatic and terrestrial tropical forests and develop on silt soil exposed to alternating tides. They are made up of various halophyte (or salt-tolerant plants), with a predominance of mangroves, that cover nearly a quarter of tropical coasts and 37 million acres (15 million hectares) in the world. This fragile environment recedes continually before overexploitation, agricultural expansion and urban development of shrimp farming and pollution. However, the mangrove swamp is indispensable to the marine animal-life and to the balance of the seashore, as well as to the local economy. New Caledonia, a group of islands in the Pacific which is spread over 7.170 square miles (18.575 square kilometers), has 77 square miles (200 square kilometers) of mangrove that is quite low (25 to 33 feet high or 8 to 10 meters) but very dense, especially on the Western coast of the largest island, Grande-Terre. Inland, where sea water only penetrates during Spring tides, vegetation is sometimes replaced by naked and over-salted stretches of land, called tanne, like near the town of Voh where nature has drawn this glade in the shape of a stylish heart.
Yellowstone is the first and oldest national park in the world. It was created in 1872 and is located on a volcanic plateau that sits astride Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Whilst the United States were conquering the “American Old West “ and slaughtering the last bison, some people had inkling that nature needed to be protected. The park is 9.000 km2 long and has the largest concentration of geothermal sites on Earth. It has more than 300 geysers, fumaroles hot springs. The Grand Prismatic Spring is 112 m in diameter. It is the park’s largest thermal basin and the third largest in the world (in size). The spectrum of colors which gave Yellowstone its name is due to the depth of the water and to the presence of microscopic algae on the edge of the bowl. Their growth in the hot water varies according to the temperature. Yellowstone has been a biosphere reserve since 1976 and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. It draws 3 million visitors a year. The five most visited natural sites in the world are on the North American continent. It drew over 98 million tourists in 2010 which is almost 10% of the 940 million international tourists counted that year. This grants it a share of about 15% of the world’s tourism revenue. On an international scale, tourism represents an amount of approximately 6.000 billion dollars that is more than 9% of the international GDP. Although it generates over 250 million jobs, tourism still has a negative impact over the environment, natural resources and local cultures.
Like Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria, Morocco is a major carpet production centre. These carpets are traditionally woven with wool, a symbol of protection and joy, sometimes combined with silk, cotton or camel or goat hair. The colors and patterns are typical of the regions where the carpets are made and it is in the High Atlas, up against where Marrakesh is situated, that the shades are warmest. The workforce is mainly feminine but also includes children. Child labor was declared a national cause in Morocco where 600.000 children younger than 14 are forced to work and deprived of education. In the world, 191 million children aged between 5 and 14 work. Over 166 million of them work illegally and almost 74 million work in dangerous conditions. 61 percent of these children are exploited in Asia, 30 percent in Africa and 7 percent in Latin America. Labels which guarantee that the consumer is purchasing a product that was not made by a child are starting to appear on certain products but they are still rare.
The bottom of the McMurdo Dry Valleys, one of the rare iceless places on the continent, is covered in polygonal patterns similar to those of a dried-up pond. Extreme temperature variations from summer to winter, when a six-month night envelops the continent and makes temperatures drop by 90°F (32°C), cause ice buried in the ground to freeze and thaw, creating this strange mineral tapestry. The reason for these patterns has not been completely uncovered but their location has been clearly determined: they appear where the ground is permanently frozen, both in Antarctica and the Arctic. But planet Earth does not hold a monopoly on this type of design. The pictures of Mars delivered by the Mars Global Surveyor and the rovers Spirit and Opportunity are striking: patterns utterly similar to those of the Dry Valleys can be seen in the polar regions of the red planet. These are on a giant scale, however—the polygons on Mars are a few miles wide, those on Earth only 30 to 100 ft (9 to 30 m).
These constructions show the increasing spread of suburban zones in North America well. About 149 miles (450 kilometers) northeast of Los Angeles in the middle of a desert plain, Las Vegas, the town of all excesses, used to get over 50.000 new inhabitants a year before the financial crisis. Nowadays, in the Clark County, which includes Las Vegas agglomeration, 125.000 houses are empty that is 15% of the housing. Despite very weak pluviometry (barely more than 100 millimetres a year) Las Vegas attracts about 40 million tourists and visitors per year. The visitors drawn to the city by the casinos also want to have access to pools andgardens as well as golf courses. Some of these require 5.000 cubic meters of water a day for watering. This is the equivalent of the consumption of a town with 12.000 inhabitants. In average, 70% of all potable water consumption per inhabitant is destinated to watering the garden. Creating these urban extensions and leisure sites without any consideration of environmental conditions has caused the diversion of water resources: dams, canals, waterworks etc. The Colorado river, which supplies the entire American southeast is drying out and some years it doesn’t even get to the sea. The river’s and the delta’s ecosystems have seriously deteriorated. Americans are insatiable water consumers and each consumes an average of 217.000 liters of domestic water per year. Its indirect consumption – including the necessary water for producing food, goods and services a year – is of 2.840 m3, the highest in the world.
Gorges created from volcanic fractures, like the bed of the Bras de Caverne river, make access to the center of the island of Réunion difficult. Some sites were explored only recently, such as the “Trou de Fer,” a ravine of 820 feet (250 m) that was discovered in 1989. Because the island’s center was protected from human encroachment, its tropical forests, with giant heather, ferns, and lichens, have been preserved, whereas the forests at low altitude have been converted to agricultural or urban use and have disappeared. More than 30 species of animals and plants, of which about two-thirds were endemic, have become extinct on the island in the past 400 years. The destruction of the forest and the introduction of non-native species have a serious impact on these insular ecosystems, whose balance has been created without outside influences. On the island, the dodo became extinct shortly after the arrival of Western sailors, who brought cats, rats, and pigs with them.
Low, flat Djerba, its highest point 50 meters (165 feet) above sea level, is none other than the ancient Phoenician, then Roman, island of Meninx: the mythical «Island of the Lotus-eaters» that Ulysses was so reluctant to leave. Despite frequent foreign incursions, the population, consisting of Berbers and heterodox Muslims (the Kharidjites) in addition to one of the oldest Jewish communities in North Africa, has managed to maintain a special identity and a balance that are now under threat. With its international airport and causeway linking it with the continent, this mecca of Tunisian tourism (the largest in the Maghreb region) has become a leisure factory, while its traditional activities of fishing and farming have stagnated. The Djerbians, who earn only a small amount of the money spent by tourists, tend to emigrate to the large urban centers of the area where they run their business. In addition, this exceptionally beautiful place is beginning to be affected by the oil pollution that extends into the Gulf of Gabès, and from Bizerte to the Gulf of Tunis. Exodus and pollution are a common price to pay for rampant tourism.
These car carcasses are compressed and then stacked one into the other to await possible use. Before arriving in this cemetery, these old cars are dismantled, cleaned up and the parts that can be reused are taken to be sold on the second-hand market or recycled. There are about 2.000 car wreckers on French soil. They play an important part in treating the waste generated by the car market; they are the last part of the car production line and the first part of the recycling chain. In France, about 1.5 million cars are sent to the scrap yard every year. The European End of Line Vehicles (ELV) directive which makes it compulsory for car manufacturers to recycle 85% of a car’s weight since 2006 (95% in 2015) is a first step towards the sector’s sustainable and responsible management. But the car’s impact is mainly linked to how it’s used. According to the World Health Organization, 1.2 million people in the world die in car accidents every year and in Europe, car pollution causes 100.000 premature deaths a year. In the United States, there are 809 cars per 1.000 inhabitants, 37 in China and 15 in India. The circulation of cars represents 23% of the energy consumption in the United States, against 5% in China and 7% in India. American drivers account for 44% of the world fuel consumption compared to 5% for Chinese and Indian drivers combined.
The magic of Sanaa, Yemen's capital, resisted the curiosity of Western travellers for a long time. It is located in a basin at an altitude of 2350 m and is indeed very difficult to access. Still today, the old town is a labyrinth of back streets that smell of spices, myrrh and incense of which Yemen is one of the largest producers. At the heart of the souk, the Al Khbir Mosque's white minaret contrasts with the warm brown of the 5 000 traditional house-towers. These high rammed earth constructions (a mixture of straw, water and clay dried in the sun) with facades decorated with delicate plaster friezes make Sanaa a spectacular town. But whilst there were only 80 000 inhabitants in 1975, it suddenly had to absorb a million Yemenis driven out of Saudi Arabia in 1990 because of Yemen's pro-Iraqi attitude during the Gulf War. To face this population influx, some promoters hastily built multicoloured concrete buildings that mar the town's surrounding area. Strict regulations now forbids new townplanning mistakes; the old town has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994.
Summering along the Antarctic Coast, whales swim in winter to the Southern Seas to reproduce. From July to November, the coasts of the Valdes Peninsula in Argentina become the scene of Southern Right Whales mating and giving birth. Until the 1950s, these migratory marine mammals were victims of intensive exploitation for their meat and the oil extracted from their blubber and this nearly led to their extinction. From 1937 on, protection measures came hand in hand with international awareness. In 1982, a moratorium on whale hunting for commercial purposes was declared and in 1994, the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary was added to the whale sanctuary that had been set up fifteen years earlier in the Indian Ocean. Despite this mobilization, it was estimated in 2008 that since the moratorium was effective in 1986, over 32.000 whales had been killed, mainly by Japanese and Norwegian whaling fleets. After decades of protection, 7 out of 13 whale species of which there are still only a few hundreds or thousands (10 to 60 times less than at the beginning of the 20th century) are still under threat.
The Loire, 628 miles (1,012 km) long, has its source in the Ardèche in southeastern France and crosses a large portion of the country before reaching the Atlantic Ocean in the west. This waterway, considered the last wild river in France, is subject to an irregular system of floods and low waters of considerable scope. In the summer certain areas of the Loire become narrow trickles that ripple among sandbanks; the shallow waters sometimes reveal subaquatic plants, as seen here near Digoin. In winter its tides can cause major flooding of towns and villages along its banks. In all regions of the world, floods are growing more frequent and more violent than before. From 1980 to 1990, the number of people who were victims of natural catastrophes has raised by 50%. Deforestation, drying of wet zones, alteration of the natural course of earth’s rivers (half of which have at least one large dam), and increasing urbanization, are examples of human actions that contribute to aggravating the consequences of floods.
In Crete, farming and access to fields is made difficult by the craggy landscape. The donkey, the traditional means of locomotion, transport and traction is definitely the animal best suited to the island's topography but it is now no longer used as much, like in this fertile plain on the Lassithi plateau. It is believed that the local climate, deemed one of the most salubrious and mildest in Europe favours the exceptional longevity of Crete's inhabitants. But the virtues of the Cretan diet in which olives and olive oil have pride of place, also play a part in this. However, Cretans are not the only ones who live for such a long time : the Vilcabamba Valley, in Ecuador, also has many hundred-year-olds. Medical progress and the improvement of sanitary conditions throughout the world is gradually increasing humanity's average life expectancy which is currently 66 years old. But this indicator is still very unequal depending on which country one is in : in Japan and in Canada, people live to be 80 years old on average whereas three out of four people die before their 50th birthday in less advanced countries.
Gossypium hirsutum from the British West Indies is the most cultivated cotton plant species in the world and was introduced in West Africa in the 19th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, the European colonial powers encouraged cotton production to counter the United States’ and Egypt’s exportation monopoly at a time when this raw material represented 80 percent of the world’s textile market (compared to 39 percent today since the development of synthetic fabrics). Producing and making cotton still employs about 1 billion people on the planet. Prices which have been halved since 1995 have put certain countries in difficult situation, especially in West and Central Africa. With the input costs - cotton cultivation alone uses a quarter of pesticides sold in the world - and the marginalization of producers, some governments have encouraged the use of less pesticides and the production of fair trade cotton to ensure that producers are better paid and that their working conditions are aligned with international norms.
The Baïkal Lake in Siberia holds at least three world records: the deepest lake (maximum depth of 1.637m), the largest volume of freshwater (in a liquid state), 23.000 km3, which represents about 20% of freshwater on the Earth’s surface and lastly, geologically speaking, the oldest lake since it was formed 25 million years ago. The Baïkal Lake is 636 km long and 80 km large and was created by a rift which is a big fault opening on the Earth’s crust. This rift is still active and gets wider regularly, by 2 cm a year. As time has gone on, 7 km of sediments have accumulated beneath the actual lake floor. The Baïkal Lake is also very endemic since 60% of the 1.200 animal and plant species listed there, among them, the only species of freshwater seals in the world, do not exist anywhere else. The most famous endemic fish is the Baikal omul (Coregonusautumnalis migratorius), a fish similar to salmon. It was the main species fished commercially but today the species is under threat and quotas decrease every year (2.100 tons in 2007, about 1.800 tons in 2008). The presence of a paper factory on the banks of the lake since the 1950s is a major source of chemical pollution. Towns and industries that often do not have wastewater treatment plants and agricultural activities on the lake’s drainage basin, which stretches to Mongolia, also pollute the water.
Iceland, “the land of ice” is a small island state built on wild and almost desert land. Its 320.000 inhabitants who are descended from the Vikings now live in one of the richest countries in the world whereas 70 years ago, they were amongst Europe’s poorest people. Its GDP – measured by the purchasing power parity - is equivalent to the one of Sweden or of Belgium. Since its independence in 1944, the Republic of Iceland has successfully developed its fishing activity, which represents 40% of all the country’s exports but that percentage may go down due to overfishing. The island also enlarged the service sector and is in charge, thanks to an ambitious policy, of exploiting the energy from water, soil and volcanoes. The first experiences of domestic geothermal heating date back to the beginning of the 20th century. In 2010, hydraulic and geothermal energy represented 85,7% of primary energy consumed by Icelanders. More precisely, geothermal energy provides homes with heat and electricity whilst dams produce electricity that is mostly used for the electrometallurgy of aluminium and ferrosilicium.
In the heart of the Yemeni Mountains, the ancient caravan city of Shibam, which linked Qatar to the Gulf of Aden on the Frankincense Trail, is a true open air museum. Because of its 500 - five-to-ten story towerhouses - some 25 m high, it has been given the nickname of “Manhattan of the Desert”. Built in pise (a mixture of straw, water and clay dried in the sun), some of these ochre and white “skyscrapers” date from the 15th or 16th century. They are clustered around one of the oldest mosques of the country. This compact and massive city looks like a fortress set high up on a hill of over 2.650 m (8.700 feet). During the rainy season, the town is surrounded by water like an island. This regular rainfall has made Yemen a fertile country and gave it the nickname of “Arabia Felix”. Welcome as the rain is, it does degrade the pise houses and regular renovations are necessary. With an individual GDP of around US$2.700 in 2010, Yemen does not have the means of looking after its architectural heritage. Indeed, the country is slowly recovering from the civil war that erupted in 1994 following the reunification of South Yemen and North Yemen in 1990. Since 1984, Shibam has been on the World Heritage List of UNESCO. The latter together with the German government subsidize the upkeep of this architectural treasure.
The nomadic herders of the Kanembu, Peul and Fulbe peoples let their livestock graze on Lake Chad’s marshlands and fertile alluvial soils, as do the Buduma, sedentary inhabitants of the lake islands. At dusk, the herders light fires, as at this encampment on the lake’s northeast shore. The livestock take cover of their own accord amid the thick smoke, avoiding flies and mosquitoes’ stings that infest the region and spread deadly diseases. But there is another threat to the survival of the Kuri breed of cattle, which now number 400.000 heads: the lack of fodder during six months of the year. Endowed with impressive horns, which act as buoyancy aids, the breed is confined to lacustrine grassland in the islands of Lake Chad, and its fate is closely dependent on that of the lake’s waters, which unfortunately have shrunk by 92% over the past forty years, through the combined effects of human interference and climate change. In order to save the lake, Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon, countries that share its water, plan to divert a tributary of the Congo River but the decision making process is taking a long time.
Venice lagoon, extending over 195 square miles (500 km2) between the Italian coast and the Adriatic Sea, is Italy’s largest wetland. A place where freshwater and saltwater meet, this marsh of silt, clay, and sand is especially rich in nutritive elements that favor the development of a multitude of aquatic species and attract many birds. The lagoon is threatened today by urban and industrial pollution, particularly hydrocarbons and heavy metals. It also holds a major concentration of phosphates and nitrates deriving from agriculture that encourage the proliferation of a green algae, Ulva rigida. This algae causes eutrophization, reduction of the oxygen content of the water, which is fatal to fish. In industrialized nations the nitrate concentration of continental waters has doubled—even quintupled in some countries—in the past thirty years.
More than 6,000 of the 7,100 Philippine Islands are uninhabited, like this islet in the Sulu Archipelago, a set of 500 islands that separate the Celebes and the Sulu seas. Their extraordinary biodiversity is under threat, not from distant industrial sites but from the effects of global pollution. These islands, which barely rise above the surface of the water, are among the first potential victims of global warming and are certain to disappear when the sea level rises. The oceans, which maintain our planet's equilibrium, play a major role in our climate, storing up heat from warmer times and releasing it later, transporting it in its currents, providing the water for rain-bearing clouds through evaporation, and trapping and absorbing carbon dioxide. This vast mass of water is inhabited by fauna whose diversity is scarcely imaginable and which, through the food chain - from plankton through fish to the marine mammals - plays an enormously important role in human subsistence.
There are one billion inhabitants in Africa. This represents almost 15 percent of humanity. This colorful crowd showing its enthusiasm by waving at the photographer was immortalized in Abengourou in the southeast of the Ivory Coast. The crowd is made up of children and teenagers and is a reminder that the country is young since, like the rest of the African continent, more than 40 percent of the population is less than fifteen years old. The country also had an estimated total fertility rate of 4,4 children per woman in 2010. This is representative of the continent’s average (the world average is 2,5 children per woman). The modernization and evolution of cultural and socioeconomic preoccupations has caused a gradual decrease in fertility but it will still take several decades to stabilize Africa’s demography. Also, the AIDS epidemic currently running rife in the Sub-Saharan area (where 67 percent of the 33 million infected people in the world live) and the ravages of malaria will have serious repercussions on the region’s demography. Every day in Africa, the AIDS virus kills 5.000 people and infects 5.000 more.