15 Unexplored Corners of the Earth

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istock

There aren’t many frontiers left in the world. Explorers have scaled the world’s tallest mountains and taken samples from Antarctica’s deepest subglacial lakes. You can visit remote, exotic locales like the Galapagos from your web browser. And yet, some hidden corners of the Earth still remain essentially uncharted, home to very few people and investigated by only the most daring travelers. Here are some of the coolest unexplored places around the globe.

1. Vale do Javari, Brazil

This region, home to at least 14 of the Amazon’s uncontacted tribes, is one of the most isolated places in the world, in part by design. An estimated 2,000 indigenous people live autonomously from the Brazilian government in an area about the size of Austria. The tribes’ right to live in isolation is protected by a federal agency charged with preventing outsiders from invading indigenous territories.

2. Northern Patagonia, Chile

Home to temperate rainforests, glaciers, fjords, and hot springs, northern Patagonia is one of Chile’s wildest landscapes. It’s the country’s most sparsely populated region, and has only been accessible by highway since the ‘80s. The Northern Patagonian Ice Field remains one of the largest masses of ice outside the polar regions.

3. Kamchatka, Russia

Russia’s eastern peninsula is home to some of the most spectacular volcanic activity on Earth, with more than 300 volcanoes, including one that has been erupting continuously since 1996. It’s home to the most diverse range of salmon species and is the most densely populated brown bear habitat in the world. However, the region was closed to Westerners until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and even before that, only 400,000 people (all with military clearances) were allowed to live in the territory, which is around the size of California. 

4. New Hebrides Trench, Pacific Ocean

Located off the eastern coast of Australia, scientists didn’t delve into this submarine trench in the South Pacific seafloor until the end of 2013. When researchers from the U.K. and New Zealand sent underwater robots into this crack in the ocean floor almost four and a half miles deep, they found prawns and eels totally unlike those found in other deep-sea trenches.

5. Northern Forest Complex, Myanmar

Many of the subtropical forests located on the steep slopes of the easternmost stretch of the Himalayas are virtually untouched by human activity. Deep within the forests in Myanmar’s Kachin State lies the largest tiger preserve in the world. It’s also home to bears, red pandas, and gibbons. 

6. Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, Madagascar

Named for the unique, massive limestone formations known as tsingy (Malagasy for “walking on tiptoes”), this 600-square-mile national park and wilderness preserve is located on Madagascar’s western edge. The labyrinth of jagged, needle-shaped limestone was formed by erosion over a period of millions of years, and the resulting habitat of gorges, canyons, and forests is a natural fortress. A huge number of species of plants and animals are endemic to the region, meaning they’re not found anywhere else on Earth, and there are plenty that haven’t even been discovered yet. While its southern tip is open to the public, much of the reserve is off-limits to tourists. 

7. Southern Namibia

The Namib is estimated to be the world’s oldest desert, and it’s one of the driest, least-populated places in the world. Dunes dominate the southern part of the harsh desert, and there are few paved roads. At 1,256 feet tall, the giant Dune 7 is believed to be the tallest sand dune in the world.

8. Star Mountains, Papua New Guinea

This remote region in western Papua New Guinea contains the Hindenburg Wall, a limestone network of plateaus more than a mile high. The 30-mile-long series of bluffs features nearly undisturbed ecosystems high above the ground. A recent biological survey of the area found 1,109 animal and plant species, almost 100 of which were new to science.

9. Sakha Republic, Russia

The Siberian Sakha Republic (also called Yakutia) covers 1/5 of Russia (about the same amount of land as India), with a large swath of the territory located above the Arctic Circle. Its climate is one of the world’s most extreme: Average temperatures in January are as low as -46 degrees Fahrenheit, and most of the land is covered by permafrost. Lichen and moss make it a favorite habitat for reindeer. Though mining has taken its toll on the region’s pristine wilderness, parts of it remain untouched, like the Lena River Delta, a gorgeous refuge and breeding ground for wildlife.

10. Greenland

Though Vikings landed in Greenland around 1000 CE, we’re still discovering parts of the far-northern region. Six new, untouched islands off the coast were discovered as recently as 1999, and much of the inland part of the country is still uninhabited. Some 80 percent of the island is covered by ice cap.

11. Mount Namuli, Mozambique

This almost 8,000-foot-tall peak is the largest of a series of mountains that have developed much like separate islands, with very different species making their homes on the different peaks. Last year, a group of biologists and rock climbers teamed up to conduct field work in the region, where rock climbing is sometimes the only way to get at unexplored habitats.

12. Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

New Zealand’s largest national park was shaped by glaciers and contains some of the country’s oldest rocks. The vast wilderness is home to a unique diversity of animals, like the takahē, a flightless indigenous bird thought to be extinct for decades until it was rediscovered in the park in 1948, and the kākāpō, the world’s only flightless, nocturnal parrot. Fiordland’s 2.9 million acres are some of the wildest lands in the Southern Hemisphere.

13. Cape Melville, Australia

Walled off by forbidding granite boulders piled hundreds of feet high, Cape Melville is only around 900 miles from Brisbane, one of Australia’s biggest cities—but the rainforest habitat might as well be a world away. Virtually inaccessible except by helicopter, scientists discovered three completely new species of animals in the area in 2013.

14. Son Doong Cave, Vietnam

The world’s largest cave contains its own river and even a jungle. At more than 5.5 miles long, it’s cavernous enough to house a skyscraper! The first expedition set off to explore this underground world in 2009 before being stymied by a 200-foot-tall wall of calcite inside. Much of the surrounding network of over 150 caves near the Laos border remains unsurveyed. 

15. North Sentinel Island, India

Located in the middle of the Bay of Bengal off the southernmost tip of Myanmar, North Sentinel Island technically belongs to India, but few outsiders have made contact with the Sentinelese people. There’s a three-mile exclusion zone surrounding the island, where somewhere between 50 and 300 people are estimated to live. The locals’ hostile reactions to outsiders’ attempts at contact have left much of the island unexplored.

8 Surprising Facts and Misconceptions About Recycling

iStock.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz
iStock.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

If you pat yourself on the back for just remembering to separate the recycling or haul that big blue bin to the curb each week, you're not alone. Despite the strides we appear to be making toward eco-consciousness as a country, we have a long way to go in helping the Earth, as evidenced by our complicated relationship with recycling. These facts about the most prevalent of the three Rs will make you pause the next time you throw anything away.

1. The United States's recycling rate is low—really low.

Figures from the Environmental Protection Agency show that America recycles about 34.7 percent of the garbage it produces. (The world's top recyclers—Germany, Austria, Wales, and South Korea—report a rate between 52 and 56 percent.) But Mitch Hedlund, founder and Executive Director of the organization Recycle Across America isn't even sure the recycling rate often quoted is accurate because there is so much junk mixed in with actual recyclables.

Recycle Across America is currently working to encourage the use of standardized labels for recycling bins to eliminate the confusion over what actually belongs in these receptacles. "If the U.S. gets the recycling number up to 75 percent, which we believe is completely possible once the confusion (over what to place in the bins) is removed, it will be the CO2 equivalent of removing 50 million cars from the roads each year in the U.S. and it will create 1.5 million permanent new jobs in the U.S. (net)."

2. Proper recycling can result in monetary savings.

Businessman stepping on green squares with recycling symbols
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While Hedlund admits the idea of providing universal labels clearly stating what should be placed in the bins is a simple one, it's making a serious impact on those who have jumped on the bandwagon. "Many schools are seeing dramatic increases in their recycling levels since using the society-wide standardized labels on their recycling bins," she says. "For instance, in the pilot program at Culver City schools in Los Angeles [County], their recycling levels doubled when they started using the standardized labels and the materials they were collecting in their recycling bins were so much less contaminated with garbage." Another story, she says, is that "as a result of a donation from Kiehls (who makes a donation to Recycle Across America each April in the sum of $50,000), all of the schools in the San Diego Unified School District and San Diego County started using the standardized labels. San Diego Unified School District reduced their landfill hauling fees by about $200,000 (net) in the first year."

3. Recent changes from China have severely impacted the recycling industry.

Until 2018, China took 40 percent of the United States's recycled paper, plastic, and metal. But in January of that year, China imposed strict new rules on the levels of contamination (think food or other garbage mixed in with the recyclables) it's willing to accept—standards American cities are largely unable to meet. Because of that, and a lack of suitable destinations closer to home, many cities have been forced to incinerate or stockpile recyclables until they can find a better solution.

4. Only 9 percent of plastic is recycled in the U.S.

The nation recycles less than 10 percent of its plastic, compared to 67 percent for paper materials, 34 percent for metals, and 26 percent for glass. And China's restrictions have especially affected plastic—while exports of scrap plastic to China were valued at more than $300 million in 2015, they amounted to $7.6 million in the first quarter of 2018, down 90 percent from the year before.

5. Clothing can be recycled, but it rarely is.

Clothing at a garage sale
iStock.com/alexeys

Unfortunately, most curbside haulers don't accept textiles, and America has a serious problem with old clothes ending up in the trash. In 2019, the nation is on track to throw away more than 35 billion pounds of textiles, according to the Council for Textile Recycling—almost double the number from 1999. On the plus side, some cities have set up drop-off points for unwanted clothes, and there are a variety of ways to sell or donate unwanted items. Some brands, including Eileen Fisher and Patagonia, have also introduced buy-back programs for their items.

6. Aluminum is the world's most-recycled packaging product.

Crushed aluminum cans
iStock.com/hroe

Nearly 70 percent of aluminum cans are recycled internationally, according to Novelis, a leader in rolled aluminum products and recycled aluminum. Aluminum is infinitely recyclable without degrading, meaning it can be reused in a way completely different from what it was in its previous life, or recast into its original form. Not only is aluminum the world's most-recycled product, it's also the most profitable and the most energy-efficient. Using recycled aluminum instead of virgin materials saves about 95% of the energy, compared to 60% for paper and 34% for glass [PDF].

7. That soda can you're drinking from could find its way back to you more quickly than you think.

According to Novelis's research, an aluminum can that is recycled can be back on a grocery store shelf within 60 days [PDF]. That's a seriously speedy turnaround.

8. Scrap recycling is big business.

While the words scrap recycling might have you humming the Sanford & Son theme song, it's far from being a junkyard industry. According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), in 2017 U.S. scrap recyclers processed more than 130 million tons of scrap metal, paper, plastic, glass, textiles, and more—material that was sold back to industrial consumers in the U.S. and around the world, generating close to $18 billion in export sales. All told, scrap recycling was a $117 billion industry in 2017 [PDF].

This list first ran in 2015 and was updated by Mental Floss staff in 2019.

From Cocaine to Chloroform: 28 Old-Timey Medical Cures

YouTube
YouTube

Is your asthma acting up? Try eating only boiled carrots for a fortnight. Or smoke a cigarette. Have you got a toothache? Electrotherapy might help (and could also take care of that pesky impotence problem). When it comes to our understanding of medicine and illnesses, we’ve come a long way in the past few centuries. Still, it’s always fascinating to take a look back into the past and remember a time when cocaine was a common way to treat everything from hay fever to hemorrhoids.

In this week's all-new edition of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy is highlighting all sorts of bizarre, old-timey medical cures. You can watch the full episode below.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here.

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