Officials in New Zealand made the extraordinary decision to ban hiking at two very popular tourist destinations because increasing global temperatures have caused the rapid melting of the scenic glaciers. For more than 100 years, people have hiked up and down the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers due to their unique locations. However, melting ice has made the area too unstable for people to walk due to the risk of falling rocks.
The ban ends a lucrative tourist industry for the area. Nearly 1 million people visit the glaciers annually. Formerly, glacier hikes included a scenic climb from the top of the glaciers down to the bottom of the valley, which opens into a huge temperate rainforest.
Flyover and helicopter tours are still allowed, but can only accommodate about 230,000 people per year — though helicopter tours may pose significant dangers. In November 2015, the crash of a helicopter tour killed all seven people on board.
Hiking, however, is much more dangerous, and has been blocked off from the public. That's because the valley walls, once covered in thick layers of ice, now have exposed rocks. These rocks can come loose, fall to the ground and tumble down the valley, and can cause serious injury or death.
One expert compared the valley to a tin of bread. Instead of the bread (snow and ice) filling the tin's interior (the valley), the contents have melted away to expose the sides — which, in the case of the valley, contain dirt and loose rocks that can create treacherous walking conditions.
Rapid melting also produces streams of water that travel down the valley, which can lead to slippery conditions for hikers. However, new types of tourist activities are offered on the opposite side of the mountains from the glaciers. People can take boat tours, for example, to watch icebergs crash into nearby lakes.
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The glaciers are easy to access due to their proximity to a highway. A four-hour hike to the top of Alex Knob used to offer spectacular views of the surrounding valleys. Those views may not happen again — unless the ice comes back. Unfortunately, anyone hoping for a return to hiking might have to wait a while because February 2016 was the second hottest month ever recorded in New Zealand. Rising global temperatures may have worse effects than the loss of tourist attractions.
Some animals, such as penguins, rely on ice for their survival. Do you part to help protect these animals from future ice melt.Whizzco