Because so many of us live in cities, we think of the Earth as a crowded place. In a world where every nook and cranny has been squeezed for resources and every untamed jungle has been turned into an IKEA, what's really left to discover?
A whole lot, as it turns out. You actually don't have to look terribly hard to stumble across ...
#5. Sunken Treasure
Even before The Goonies came about, the whole "searching for buried/sunken pirate treasure" thing was the plot of dozens of movies, books, and TV episodes. So where the hell did Hollywood get the idea that the world is just littered with lost pirate gold? It really is ridiculous -- if you had a galleon laden with the king's treasure, you wouldn't just leave it laying around.
It's a disease.
In reality, there was probably, like, one ship full of gold that sank, and Hollywood just ran with the idea.
But Actually ...
An astonishing 3 million shipwrecks remain on the ocean floor, waiting to be found by some adventurer. That's because early explorers were all about finding precious metals, and early colonies were all about mining it and shipping it back home. The trade routes were thus continually packed with ships bearing gold, silver, and other shiny things -- rickety, wooden ships that were continually sinking every time they ran into rough seas. And this was before anybody invented submarines or scuba gear that could go down and retrieve it -- what sank belonged forever to the singing crabs of the deep.
Pictured here with the hookers he later blew it all on.
So while you spend your paid vacation days sipping pina coladas on a Caribbean beach, at any given moment you're actually not far from some of the over $60 billion worth of undiscovered treasure lurking down among the fishes, hidden in boxes surrounded by pirate skeletons. Just over a year ago, a World War II-era British ship was discovered with 240 tons of silver still on board, worth $200 million. And people were laughing at the Tampa-based company Odyssey Marine Exploration for posting several years of losses, but in 2007, they found a $500 million wreck off of England. Who's laughing now? (Them. They are laughing.)
"Actually, now we're so rich that we pay others to laugh at you for us."
So the next time you meet a drunk in a bar who offers to sell you a crudely drawn map with a big red "X" on it, perhaps you should at least give it a moment's thought.
#4. Deserted Islands
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With the exploration age behind us and the human population growing out of control, it's difficult to believe that there's anywhere left unsettled in this world. That's why stories like Cast Away are somewhat ridiculous -- where can you possibly go on Earth that isn't either A) near routes traveled by international flights, ocean freighters, and fishing boats or B) already home to a native village or corporate oil-drilling operation? Between tourists, rich people buying private islands, and supervillains building hideouts, there can't possibly be any "deserted" islands left that are any bigger than your average driveway.
"Fuck it, as long as I don't have to shovel the island, I'm in."
But Actually ...
Don't give up your dreams of living like Gilligan and having your own monkey butler just yet -- there are actually a lot of uninhabited islands out there just waiting for some crackpot with a raft to lay a claim. You could be that crackpot!
Just to give some idea of how plentiful deserted islands really are, the Maldives alone has 1,000 uninhabited islands, and that's just one island chain. Indonesia is planning to rent some of its 10,000 uninhabited islands to folks whose low-lying islands are being affected by rising seas and storm surges. Greece is leasing 40 of its numerous hunks of remote paradise in order to reduce its debt. And that's not some far-off, remote country in a frozen corner of the globe -- it's Greece.
"That's the word."
Hell, the largest uninhabited island in the world is Devon Island, off the coast of Canada. It's 21,000 square miles of not even a single crazy, ranting hermit. If you're one of the millions of Americans who complain daily about the congestion of modern society, just imagine if your family of four could move to Devon Island and each have 5,000 square miles to yourself. As long as you were willing to build your own house.
"Doesn't this count as child labor?"
"As Dadtator of Dadsontia ... I'll allow it."
#3. Uncontacted Tribes
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So even if there are lots of uninhabited islands, there can't still be all sorts of native tribes hanging out in the jungles. Aren't we hearing about how the rain forests are being cut down at an alarming rate? Where could primitive people possibly live where there isn't already a Starbucks within walking distance?
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"Never forget the ways of our people. Two pumps vanilla, light foam."
But Actually ...
We've already written about six such tribes who only recently discovered that there was a modern world outside of their patch of jungle, and in fact there are a lot of insanely secluded people on this planet who have only very recently made contact with the outside world. And that's just scratching the surface -- there are over 100 uncontacted tribes still living on this planet that we know about. These are people who have never even seen a wristwatch, to say nothing of "Gangnam Style."
These isolated communities are mostly concentrated in three regions: the Amazon forest, Papua New Guinea, and the Andaman Islands. Unfortunately for them, most people don't even realize that they still exist, and some deny their existence out of convenience. Such is the case with the Peruvian government, whose refusal to acknowledge such tribes serves as an excuse to continue deforestation, encroaching on their land.
Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"Did that tree just scream?"
The sad reality is that when a remote tribe is discovered, Westerners tend to regard them more as zoo animals than human beings, giving them money and tossing food in return for photo opportunities. We only know they exist mostly from other extremely isolated tribes who have limited contact with them. Most of them seem perfectly happy not being a part of our world, which they would undoubtedly regard as a dystopian, disease-ridden wasteland.
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Maybe they're on to something here.