Photograph of Jeju Island, South Korea (Photo: Martin Chen)
The Great Pyramid of Giza, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and Colossus of Rhodes are a few of the original Seven Wonders of the World. Now the list is getting a makeover. Eamonn Fitzgerald of New7Wonders has organized an online and cellphone poll to elect seven new world wonders. He tells host Steve Curwood about the preliminary winners.
CURWOOD: The original list of the Seven Wonders of the World was a kind of tourist guidebook to the ancient world - think the Colossus of Rhodes or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Well, both those wonders are gone but modern communications technology offers the chance for a globally democratic way to select and rank the greatest natural wonders.
So the organization New7Wonders has completed a survey to create a new list. People around the world were asked to vote online or via cell phone. The response was so huge, particularly from Asia, that a final tally of those cell phone votes is still being verified.
But New7Wonders has gone ahead with a preliminary list, and spokesman Eamonn Fitzgerald joins us now from Munich to fill us in. Welcome to Living on Earth!
FITZGERALD: It’s a pleasure and greetings to your listeners.
CURWOOD: Well, thank you. Let’s quickly go over this new list of natural wonders. And they’re in alphabetical order, right?
CURWOOD: So that would mean we'd start with the Amazon Rainforest.
FITZGERALD: It’s an iconic symbol of everything about the planet’s environment that is both precious and endangered, and certainly for many on the green side of the political divide, almost a holy significance.
CURWOOD: So, next we go to Halong Bay in Vietnam - that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as the Amazon.
FITZGERALD: It’s unique in many ways - thousands of little islands - an entire phenomenon encased within itself. But one again that is under great stress and in danger because there is a tremendous move to commercialize it and provide a constant tourist influx.
CURWOOD: Now, next on the list alphabetically: Iguazu Falls, which sits by Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. I’ve been there, by the way. It’s a great place, but why did you list it?
FITZGERALD: It is very spectacular. It is very beautiful. And, in the competition, it proved to be very, very popular, significantly, perhaps, outside of that particular region. People from many countries where there was no finalists in the competition - take, say, Great Britain or Norway or Scandinavia - many of them who would have visited Iguazu Falls, like you, perhaps felt inclined to vote for it.
CURWOOD: Next alphabetically we have Jeju Island in South Korea.
FITZGERALD: I was there in April and, again, it is very, very beautiful. It’s a volcanic island, and so, it has a combination of stone and plant life that is quite unique, and I was immediately aware of the danger posed by commercial development.
What we’re seeing is the emergence of a vast mid-class in China. Let’s say we have two hundred million of the 1.2 billion people who now wish to travel. Some of them will obviously go to Boston, some will go to Venice, some will go to Munich, and a lot will explore the immediate neighborhood in Asia. And Jeju Island will be one of the places that they would go.
CURWOOD: In Indonesia, there’s Komodo National Park. And what’s so beautiful about Komodo National Park?
FITZGERALD: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think the thing here is the fascination with the world’s largest lizard, which is a fearsome creature. And there’s something spectacular about the animal, and its home is just someplace that is magnetic.
CURWOOD: So moving down the list, alphabetically, we come to the underground Puerto Princesa River in the Philippines.
FITZGERALD: Again, we’re talking Asia. We’re talking about a country where we saw, perhaps, another interesting aspect of the idea of how a global poll functions. Filipinos are spread all over the world - the domestic economy is very, very weak - but you have lots of people from the Philippines working as nurses in New York City, as service personnel in the Gulf, and they are all very proud of their homeland, and they all voted for the Philippines finalist.
CURWOOD: And finally, Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa.
FITZGERALD: A symbol of South Africa. Nelson Mandela saw it daily from his prison on Robben Island and vowed to praise it as soon as he was released.
CURWOOD: Now, some of these winners that have made it on the list are threatened by human activity. In fact, I suppose, most of these, really, run some sort of risk. To what extent do you think being on this list will protect these places from being destroyed?
FITZGERALD: It is up to the custodians of these seven places to put in place some kind of structure that allows for the reality of tourism, but also for sustainable development. And, if the two can be combined in a very pragmatic and progressive way, there is hope that they can be preserved.
CURWOOD: Alright, well, I’m going to pack my bags. It’s going to take me awhile to see all these places!
FITZGERALD: Good luck and enjoy the trip.
CURWOOD: Eamonn Fitzgerald is head of communications for New7Wonders and joined us from Munich. Thank you so much, sir.
FITZGERALD: You’re very welcome, Steve.
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