Human progress often clears away everything from the natural world. People cut down trees, pave fields, and drain waterways to put up houses, buildings, and more. Many mourn the destruction and worry that nature cannot recover. But around the world, sites exist that prove this belief is false. Nature has an amazing ability to reclaim the land after human activity ceases.
Here are seven examples that show how fast it can happen and how eerie and stunning the result often is.
1. Paradise for Rabbits
Many people have heard of a place known as Rabbit Island (Usagi Shima) in Japan. The real name of the island is Ōkunoshima. Tours regularly ferry visitors to the island so they can see and feed the large population of feral bunnies hopping around their safe home. Estimates put the current rabbit population at around 1,000.
Visitors can walk nature trails, stay at campsites, and enjoy the ocean views surrounding the island. Also found on the island are the remains of the abandoned buildings of a factory used to produce chemical weapons during WWII. The buildings remain, but photographs show the slow creep of trees and other greenery closing in on the structures.
2. The Lost Valley
Il Vallone Dei Mulini (the valley of the mills) became the victim of a changing economy. In the 1940s the sawmill and flour mill closed. The abandoned buildings soon lost the battle with nature. The edifices date back as far as the 13th century. However, their longevity did not make them invulnerable. Today the large stone structures sit cloaked in thick green vines and other plant life that thrives within the deep crevasse. Visitors can walk through the abandoned site or enjoy the view from the ledges above.
3. The Rooted Temple
Ta Prohm once stood as a part of the largest worship site in Cambodia. But it now sits encased by tree roots. Archaeologists uncovered the remains of the extensive complex of Angkor Wat in the early 20th century. Restoration efforts began, but the jungle continues to keep its hold on Ta Prohm.
The structure consists of stacked stones, and the lack of mortar made it possible for the roots of the surrounding trees to wind their way throughout the structure. Efforts continue to stabilize the ruins, but the giant trees and roots covering the buildings dominate the site.
4. A Watery Mall
Bangkok’s New World Shopping Mall now has an atmosphere more fitting for a lost world. Operating for only 15 years, the mall closed for good in 1997 after failing building regulations.
A fire destroyed the roof of the complex shortly after closure, which led to the main level of the large mall slowly filling with rainwater. The fetid pond soon lured insects to the location, and locals brought in fish to help reduce the pest population. The fish thrived and reproduced in the waters of the ground floor of the rusting, giant mall.
In 2015, Bangkok authorities sent teams to remove the estimated 3,000 fish. Attempts to drain the building failed due to the lack of a roof, and the decaying structure is still a popular destination for urban explorers, artists, and others.
5. Nuclear Wildlife Preserve
In 1986, 350,000 people ran from their homes and businesses as a meltdown in the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant began. Authorities in the then-Soviet Union refused to release the total of the citizens’ lives lost in the tragic event.
Over 30 years later, human residency remains forbidden in the once-thriving city. The rules, however, have not applied to the wildlife now flourishing in the region. Despite the elevated levels of radiation, nature continues unabated. Fears of a barren wasteland existing in the spot for thousands of years have disappeared, as the area has an extensive array of creatures. Some examples include:
- Przewalski horses
- Brown bears
- Over 200 species of birds
- Fish and amphibians
6. Lost Amusement Park
Spreepark once offered recreation for the residents of East Berlin. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 allowed residents to discover the more modern amusements found in the western region of the now-unified country. The owners finally left the park in 2002. The remains of the play place fade away a little more each year behind trees and layers of moss.
Authorities now hope to revitalize the area without reducing the hold nature has on the location. Currently, guided tours take visitors through the park to see the reclaiming of the land by the natural world.
7. Sand for Diamonds
The discovery of diamonds in 1908 in Kolmanskop, Namibia, helped turned this village into a busy mining town that once supplied over 11% of the world’s diamonds. The village residents lived in luxury. The town had everything needed for comfort, including regular train visits to deliver water to the arid region.
About 30 years after its establishment, the diamond mines became stripped of their valuable commodity, and by the mid-1950s, Kolmanskop was a ghost town. With no one to hold them back, the sands of the nearby Namid Desert drifted into the streets and eventually through the doors and windows of the empty buildings. The structures continue to deteriorate as the sand dunes grow taller each year. Experts believe the desert will eventually swallow the city entirely.
These abandoned sites may give an eerie vibe. But they’re also breathtaking. Furthermore, it reminds us of the ability of the world to thrive, even as humans fail.