10 Largest Protected Areas

A protected area is a designated location that has been preserved for its ecological, natural and/or cultural values. Governments work with conservationists to ensure that these areas continue to function naturally, with minimal (if any) human management. The preservation of many protected areas has stopped or slowed the extinction rate of several species. Currently, there are over 160,000 protected areas in the world that cover 10 to 15 percent of the world’s surface area (both land and sea). Listed below are the ten largest protected areas in the world.

10. Northeast Greenland National Park

Size: 927,000 square kilometers

Encompassing the entire northeastern portion of Greenland, this is the largest national park in the world. It is larger than 163 countries (there are roughly 194 countries in the world). The land is inhabited by polar bears, walrus, arctic fox, snowy owl and musk oxen, among many other species. Northeast Greenland is the most northerly national park in the world.

9. Chagos Marine Protected Area

Size: 545,000 sq. km.

Part of the British Indian Ocean Territory, the Chagos Marine Protected Area is the largest marine reserve in the world. Larger than the country of France, this marine reserve is located 500 kilometers south of Maldives. The seven atolls of Chagos are a wonder to see and are rich in biodiversity.

8. Phoenix Islands Protected Area

Size: 408,250 kilometers

Located in the Republic of Kiribati, this protected area is the largest marine reserve in the Pacific Ocean and was the world’s first deep-water, mid-ocean marine protected area. There are rumors that missing aviator Amelia Earhart crashed on one of the islands in 1937.

7. Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument

Size: 360,000 sq. km.

This World Heritage-listed preserved area is a U.S. National Monument located in the state of Hawaii. The monument is made up of ten islands and atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The area is home to 7,000 different species, including the endangered Hawaiian monk seal.

6. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park

Size: 345,400 sq. km.

The Great Barrier Reef contains the largest cluster of corals in the world and is home to several species of exotic marine life. This park was established to protect a large part of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef from further damage. Although humans are allowed to visit the area, permits are required for all activities (both recreational and commercial) and guidelines are very strict.

5. Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area

Size: 287,132 kilometers

The protected area covers land in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe on the continent of Africa. There are several national parks incorporated into this preserved area, including Chobe National Park, Hwange National Park, the Okavango Delta and Victoria Falls. Designed to encourage tourism across several borders and the migration of mammals across borders, the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area was created by the Peace Parks Foundation and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

4. Galapagos Marine Reserve

Size: 133,000 sq. km.

The Galapagos Islands are located 1,000kilometers off the coast of Ecuador. The Galapagos Marine Reserve is the largest marine reserve in a developing country and the second largest reserve in the world. This area is home to many species of marine life, including sharks, whales, turtles, fish and rays. There is a mixture of hot and warm marine currents and freshwater and seawater, so there are several unique species in the area. Charles Darwin studied many species here to form his Theory of Evolution.

3. Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park

Size: 99,800 sq. km.

Ever growing, this peace park covers land in Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe and is comprised of 10 different national parks and reserves, including Banhine National Park, Kruger National Park and Limpopo National Park. Wildlife that makes their home here includes African elephants, giraffes, African leopards, cheetahs and spotted hyenas, among others.

2. Air and Tenere Natural Reserve

Size: 77,360 sq. km.

Located in the country of Niger, this preserved area has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Covering both the eastern half of the Air Mountains and the western sections of the Tenere desert, there are two sections of this reserve; a nature reserve and a strict sanctuary.

1. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Size: 53,321 sq. km.

Located in southern Alaska, this U.S. National Park has also been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is included in an International Biosphere Reserve. It is the largest national park in the United States by area, and is larger than nine states. Located in the park, Mt. St. Elias is the second highest mountain in both Canada and the United States; nine of the 16 highest peaks in the U.S. are located in the park.



10 Black Sand Beaches

10. Vik Beach, Iceland

Vik Beach is located in a small village located in the southern part of Iceland. Though you may think Iceland isn’t the prettiest place on Earth to go to enjoy a beach, Vik Beach was nominated one of the most beautiful beaches on Earth in 1991. Vik is also the wettest village in Iceland, so you want to make sure that you get to the beach on a day that isn’t so rainy. Though this beach isn’t the best one to lie out and soak up some sun, it is definitely a marvel to see.

9. Black Sand Beach, Prince William Sound, Alaska

This beach is located just 60 miles from Anchorage. At this beach, you will see tidewater glaciers, waterfalls, green hillsides, and wildlife you won’t find at the zoo. If you look into the water or around you, you will see that the ten-thousand-foot peaks are reflected in the beautiful icy blue water. At this beach, one of the most popular things to do is to go kayaking. Remember, you’re in Alaska so this isn’t the beach that you want to go sport your new bikini at. Bring warmer clothes than you generally would to this beach. Thank me later.

8. Pololu Valley Beach, Hawaii

Pololu Valley Beach is located at the end of Highway 270. At this beach, you will find that you have access to an excellent view of the Kohala Mountains as well as the coastline. This beach is probably one of the smallest in Hawaii, and it requires you to hike from the 400-foot lookout area to actually get to the beach. This means about 20 minutes of hiking. At this beach, activities such as snorkeling and swimming aren’t recommended because the currents are generally extremely strong and high surf conditions make the water dangerous. If you do visit Pololu Valley Beach, try hiking and just taking in the scenery.

7. Kehena Beach, Hawaii

If you plan on going on vacation, this isn’t the place to take your family, especially if you have young children. The beach is said to be a nude beach, though this is illegal in Hawaii. At Kehena, you aren’t alone. Here you will find dolphins, which is why this beach is sometime called Dolphin Beach. You can even swim with these dolphins if the current isn’t too bad. Most people that go to Kehena just sit in the sand and enjoy the weather and water.

6. Kaimu Beach, Hawaii

Kaimu Beach, though somewhat dangerous, is another great black sand beach that is a must see. During the 1990s, the beach was covered in about 20’ of lava. Recently, those who live near the beach have begun planting new trees and flowers to bring the beach back to life, so to speak. Ferns, palm trees, and other plants can be seen popping out of the cracks in the lava. It is advised that you don’t swim at this beach because of the strong currents, but standing in the water for a little won’t do much harm.

5. Black Sand Beach, Lost coast, California

The Lost Coast of California stretches about 80 miles long. It is one of the lightest traveled coasts. If you have the courage and skill to master this coast, you will be greeted by peaks that are more than 2000 feet high. The highest is King’s Peak at 4,087 feet. You will also be greeted by a beach named Black Sand Beach. Though you can swim in this beach, most people don’t. It isn’t a beach that attracts a large crowd, except for those that are hiking along the coast and stop to take pictures and such. This beach brings about an extremely dramatic scene, with beautiful water, sand, and peaks all around it.

4. Oneuli Beach, Maui

Oneuli Beach is one of the beaches in Hawaii where you probably won’t ever see large crowds of people. However, while on the beach, you will always have a great time while you are there. The water is perfect and the land so great that you can even camp at this beach. If you are just planning on staying for a few hours, you can go swimming, hiking, fishing, and boating. If you’re a natural-type of person, you would love hiking on the Lower Trail as well as the Maluaka. You can also try snorkeling, scuba diving, and kayaking. The sand here gets extremely hot when the sun is out. Don’t forget your shoes!

3. Honokalani Black Sand Beach, Maui

Honokalani Black Sand Beach is located in the Wainapanapa State Park. The beach offers lava pebbles that are smooth and small. Around the beach you will find lava cliffs. You will also find sea caves, a sea arch, as well as seaside lava tubes. From the beach you can walk the King’s Highway, which is a path from the beach along the coast that takes you to Hana. As well as enjoy the beach, you can go diving and snorkeling at this beach.

2. Waianapanapa Black Sand Beach, Maui
Waianapanapa Beach is a great black sand beach that was formed by waves crashing against volcanic rock over decades and decades. At this beach you can find some of the most beautiful sites you’ll ever see. You can look and go into sea caves, bridges made of natural stone, and you can look at the old King’s Highway. This highway used to encircle the island. If you are bringing your family to this beach, make sure that you try to visit during the summer months. In winter, the surf becomes extremely high, so swimming, surfing, and diving are all very dangerous here. When the surf is calm, you can kayak, swim, and scuba dive.

1. Punaluu Beach, Hawaii

The top black sand beach in the world is Punaluu Beach, which is located on the Big Island of Hawaii. The beach is surrounded by black sand that was created by lava from volcanos flowing into the ocean and then cooling. The ocean is said to be rocky, so be aware if you plan on going into the water. At this beach you will find Hawksbill turtles as well as Green sea turtles. Though the black sand is beautiful, it is illegal to take the sand off of the beach. Sometimes you just can’t take a piece of everything with you.



Flower Park in Japan; Ashikaga

The Japanese love flowers, and wisteria are among their favorites. Wisteria (known as fuji in Japan) is said to be one of the archipelago's most ancient noted flowering trees, even being described in the collected poems of the Man'yoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves).

One of the best places to view fuji flowers is the Ashikaga Flower Park in Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture. Ashikaga Flower Park features lots of blue, white and pink fuji, as well as yellow laburnum (Japanese: kingusari) that look like yellow colored fuji.

Three massive wisteria trellises extend for more than 1000 square meters, in addition to a large trellis of rare double-petaled wisteria. One large fuji tree is 100 years old and its branches are supported to create a huge umbrella of blue fuji flowers. There is also an 80-meter tunnel of white fuji flowers, while a tunnel of yellow kingusari needs a few more years to become an actual tunnel. Yae-fuji, a variety with more than the usual number of petals, can also be viewed.

Besides the fuji, you will find many other flowers, restaurants and a shop selling plants and local products. There are no English descriptions and very few foreign visitors. The entrance fee depends on the season's beauty and is around 1000 Yen per adult during the fuji peak season.

The fuji in Ashikaga Flower Park are usually in full bloom in the beginning of May, one to two weeks later than the fuji of Tokyo. Because Ashikaga Flower Park is considered one of the best spots to view fuji flowers in Japan, the park can be very crowded even on weekdays during the peak season.



Fantastic Earth from Above

Aerial photography can give us awesome perspectives, but when we zoom out and then observe the Big Blue Marble from high above, such as the breathtaking views of Earth from the ISS, it’s an eye-opening experience for most of us. Internationally, many countries have satellites and spacecrafts with their unblinking eyes focused on the Earth. These amazing photos offer us a unique window overlooking our world; viewing the Earth from above offers a stunning opportunity to see our wonderful planet in out-of-our-world ways that most humans will never experience in their lifetime.

Aurora Australis and Daybreak. The Aurora Australis, seen at right on Earth’s horizon, and daybreak (left) highlight this “busy” photograph taken by one of the Expedition 30 crew members aboard the International Space Station.

The Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission makes global observations of soil moisture over Earth’s landmasses and salinity over the oceans.

Earth as seen from the ISS: A ‘Green Sea’ of Aurora Borealis (NASA, International Space Station, 01-25-12).

Earth at Night.

The Second Palm Island, Dubai. The islands are being built in shallow waters of the wide contintental shelf found off Dubai, using millions of cubic metres of sand dredged from the approach channel to the Jebel Ali port ? seen here adjacent to the artificial island named after it.

The Earth Observatory wrote, “Surrounded by darker, deeper ocean waters, coral atolls often glow in vibrant hues of turquoise, teal, peacock blue, or aquamarine. Belize’s Lighthouse Reef Atoll fits this description, with its shallow waters covering light-colored coral: the combination of water and pale corals creates varying shades of blue-green. Within this small sea of light colors, however, lies a giant circle of deep blue. Roughly 300 meters (1,000 feet) across and 125 meters (400 feet) deep, the feature is known as the Great Blue Hole.”

Banks Peninsula, New Zealand — a country offering snow-capped Alps and subtropics.

The Moon and Earth from the ISS with love (NASA, International Space Station, 01/08/12).

IKONOS Venice. The Venetian Lagoon, a crescent-shaped body of water between the Italian mainland and the Adriatic Sea, covers 550 sq km and has an average depth of approximately one metre. The lagoon and Venice were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Beautiful Bora Bora Island, Polynesia.

Earth as seen from the ISS: Atlantic Coast at Night (NASA, International Space Station, 02/06/12).

The ESA wrote, ESA's micro-satellite Proba observes the active Bromo volcano, a popular tourist attraction of East Java in Indonesia. Photo #12 by © SSTL through ESA

Great Red Island, Madagascar: “The southwestern area of Madagascar – the fourth largest island in the world – is highlighted in this Envisat image. The green coloured body of water visible just below the Mangoky River is Lake Ihotry. The Isalo National Park, which is located to the right in the image in the burnt orange area.”

Society Islands: “This Proba CHRIS image shows a typical atoll belonging to the Society Islands, part of the overseas territory of French Polynesia. The atoll is made of a deep central lagoon surrounded by submerged reefs and a small inlet, the main landstrip (8km long, 500m large) is densely vegetated.”

Dongting Lake and the Yangtze River: “China’s longest river and its second largest lake are central features of this Envisat Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) image. Dongting Lake is the large L-shaped body of water, seen towards bottom right in the image. It – and the Central Yangtze region in general – is an important habitat for numerous aquatic species including the Yangtze freshwater dolphin. Dongting’s total area varies considerably as Yangtze flood waters pour into the lake between July and September, the period within which this image was acquired.”

Holbox Island, Yucatan “One of the world’s most important ecosystems, Holbox and its surrounding waters are part of the Yum Balam Biosphere Reserve. Its unspoiled beaches of fine white coralline sands are important for turtle nesting, and over 500 bird species can be found here. Caboe Catoche, the cape at the eastern tip of the island (right), is where the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea meet. Their mingling waters create a kaleidoscope of turquoise and emerald hues.”

Southeastern U.S. at Night as seen from the ISS (NASA, International Space Station, 10/18/11).

Titled “Land of Terror, Sahara, Algeria“: The image shows the extraordinary landscape of the Tanezrouft Basin, one of the most desolate parts of the Sahara desert, in south-central Algeria. The region is known as ‘land of terror’ because of its lack of water and vegetation.

The Chishima Islands and Hokkaido as seen from the space shuttle.

Agricultural fields radiate away from the well-defined outer boundaries of Hajdúböszörmény, Hungary. The dark areas on the right are dense forests.

Rugen, Germany: “The icy waters of the Baltic Sea surrounding Germany’s largest island, Rügen, are pictured in this image from Japan’s ALOS observation satellite. Sea ice blankets the surrounding brackish waters, hugging the island’s shores with its many peninsulas. The white lines that cut through larger ice-covered bodies of water are the remnants of ice-breaking boats and ships.”

Earth Observatory: “From its vantage 824 kilometers (512 miles) above Earth, the Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite gets a complete view of our planet every day. This image from November 24, 2011, is the first complete global image from VIIRS.”

Heart Island, Croatia.

From the ISS: Aurora Australis Over New Zealand, Tasman Sea (NASA, International Space Station, 09/17/11).

Koror within the Caroline Islands of Palau “are visible in this Proba CHRIS image. The islands lie on the equator, 850km east of the Philippines. The population of Palau is approx. 20.000 the majority of which live on the island of Koror. A town of the same name at the top of the island serves as the capital.”

Previous Launching Pad for Space Shuttle Endeavour at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

The Alps form a great crescent-shaped ridge extending from the Mediterranean to Austria.

Salty Lakes, Iran’s Neyriz Lakes, “Lake Bakhtegan (center) and Lake Tashk (top), situated in the Neyriz Basin, are salty lakes in the southeastern Zagros Mountains with fluctuating water levels according to rain and snowfall in the mountains.”

Disneyland Park, Disneyland Drive, Anaheim, CA.

Comet Lovejoy Fading (NASA, International Space Station, 12/27/11).

Earth Observatory, “Stretching across part of southwestern Bangladesh and southeastern India, the Sundarbans is the largest remaining tract of mangrove forest in the world. The Sundarbans is a tapestry of waterways, mudflats, and forested islands at the edge of the Bay of Bengal. Home to the endangered Bengal tiger, sharks, crocodiles, and freshwater dolphins, as well as nearly two hundred bird species, this low-lying plain is part of the Mouths of the Ganges. The area has been protected for decades by the two countries as a National Park, despite the large human populations concentrated to the north….This satellite image shows the forest in the protected area. The Sundarbans appears deep green, surrounded to the north by a landscape of agricultural lands, which appear lighter green, towns, which appear tan, and streams, which are blue. Ponds for shrimp aquaculture, especially in Bangladesh, sit right at the edge of the protected area, a potential problem for the water quality and biodiversity of the area.”

Dubai’s artificial islands: “Two manmade islands – Palm Jumeirah (left) and The World – located just off the coast of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Palm Jumeirah is the smallest of three massive palm-shaped islands, which also include Palm Jebel Ali and Palm Deira. The World (photo #7) is a collection of 300 islets, each ranging in size from 23 226 to 83 613 sq m, built in the shape of a world map.”

Nebraska: “This 1-meter IKONOS satellite image depicts a crop field at Offutt Air Force Base in which the words ‘Thank You! For Freedom!’ are visible all the way from space.”

Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Photo #34 by European Space Agency

Crater Lake, Oregon is featured in this image photographed by the International Space Station.

Moon Over Earth as seen from ISS.

The Earth and Moon.