When Nature Takes Over

Written by Supernova

Mar 24, 2022

We humans make a huge impact on the earth’s health, and the negative effects are outweighing the positives. How do we fix that?  We leave areas alone so nature can heal.

Let’s take a journey, where we look at places around the world where nature has taken over.

A catastrophic mistake   

Chernobyl is notorious for being one of the worst nuclear disasters in history. Human error caused an explosion and a radiation cloud that spread, affecting quite a bit of Europe. It made the town of Pripyat and the Exclusion Zone, about 30km surrounding the site, uninhabitable. After the explosion, the town’s residents were permanently evacuated. This ghost town has stayed mostly unchanged. However, this did happen in 1986, so everything left behind has aged or rusted.

You can still see empty classrooms with textbooks and notes on desks, bumper cars that cannot move and vending machines that will never dispense another soda ever again. Though no one lives here because of the radiation levels, there are still plants growing all over. Despite the radiation levels, animals are flourishing, because we are not there to interfere. Scientists have found that several species of birds and mammals, like foxes, wolves and elk, are thriving. Without us there, these animals have a far bigger territory to roam in. This means that they can increase in number  and the area can become something of “a nature reserve,” according to the BBC.

If you are a brave soul, you can always go visit Chernobyl, but there are obviously safety guidelines you will need to follow on that tour!

Nature takes over a city

Utterly deserted

Kolmannskuppe (or Kolmanskop) is another ghost town located in Namibia. The spelling of the name has changed slightly from when it was a German colony. It has been taken over by the desert. The desert is forever expanding. It happens when the wind blows the sand all over, there is a change in climate, etc. We can help this along by taking resources out of the earth, which dries out the soil. In this case, it began when Zacharias Lewala found a diamond. That began the diamond rush of 1908.

People rushed there in droves to seek their fortune. The town was built resembling one you would find in Europe. It had many of the luxurious things you could hope for: a bakery, a theatre, a hospital, to name a few. Residents created stunning gardens for their beautiful homes, watering them with water brought in from Cape Town. At its peak, it was prosperous and life was great. So, the town’s people kept the desert back, literally shovelling sand, in order to keep the town looking wonderful. Then the diamond price went down. Diamonds were discovered elsewhere and people began to abandon the town.

The desert moved in and hasn’t stopped. The strong winds continue to blow sand particles toward the town, so it is being worn away, slowly but surely. Now all that’s left is a decaying reminder of what a gem it used to be, and a museum full of memories.

If you want to visit, you’ll need a visitor’s permit to get into the sperrgebiet, a leftover of what used to be diamond central.

Nature takes over an abandoned bus.

From prison to paradise

Devil’s Island… sounds frightening, doesn’t it? Looking at the island from a distance, it looks like an island paradise. Well, for the 70 000 to 80 000 prisoners taken there, it wasn’t. It is one of the three Îles du Salut (Islands of Salvation), in French Guiana. Though it is named for saving people, it was actually a place where thousands of prisoners died.

Looking at the prison today, you can see why. The cells are horribly small and lacking sunlight. The prisoners had to stand up all day and were also forced to help build it, all while the guards kept watch. Now that trees and plants have taken over the prison, it has become hauntingly beautiful. It’s interesting to note that other businesses which tried to start up there were never able to… It is yet another reminder of what horrors we are capable of, and how nature can soothe it and heal it. 

Examples of what it looks like when nature takes over.

An eerie tourist attraction

Rumoured to be haunted by the ghosts of the workers that died while building it, the Ghost Palace Hotel, or the PI Bedugul Taman Rekreasi Resort and Hotel, has that creepy feeling of an empty building with just you in it. That’s because it is utterly empty.

Strangely, this hotel was never officially open for business, but the reason for this is a mystery that has not yet been answered. If you visit this creepy tourist attraction, your voice will echo, you’ll walk through puddles, trip over vines and feel the breeze come in through open gaps in windows, doors or passages leading to the outside. You might feel something brush on your neck or over your hair as you walk under the plants crawling in from the ceiling. Or you’ll turn into a warrior battling unseen enemies as you walk through a spider web. This place shows you that, even if millions of rands are spent, nature, when given enough time, will come back to claim the space that we’ve stolen.

Nature takes over a hotel.

Other noticeable mentions:

Purposefully sunken ships, tanks and airplanes create artificial coral reefs by becoming what the coral grows on.

World War 1 (1914-1917) trenches that have not been preserved are now slowly being restored to their natural pre-war state.

World War II (1939-1945) battlefield remnants, such as the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbour, fallen tanks, planes and pieces of equipment, are now permanent fixtures in the environment.

Abandoned quarries are dangerous places. They are deep, have sharp edges and are full of toxic elements.  Even though they are quite beautiful, they are deadly.

Cemeteries are places filled with history. When you walk through them, you see different types of graves. Each grave comes from a different time and each person buried there has a different story.. In the older cemeteries, there isn’t always a caretaker, so nature claims it for itself.

The Floating Forest

The SS Ayrfield was left to decay when the wrecking yard there closed due to World War II. Now, Mangrove trees call it home.

Walt Disney World’s Discovery Island

The island, called ‘Bay Lake’ and located in the middle of Disney World, began losing popularity and costing more money, but there are rumours that it was the bad handling of the birds that led to its closure.  It now lies abandoned, a forbidden sight where anything could be lurking in the trees above you or in the water below.

North Brother Island – New York

It began as a hospital, where those with typhoid fever and tuberculosis could be quarantined. Later it was used as a house for World War II veterans and an unsuccessful rehabilitation centre. Since then it has been left empty. The roofs have collapsed in places and plants have moved in. It is protected by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation because of the many species of birds that have made it their nesting grounds.

The Great Wall of China

Now this UNESCO heritage site should be familiar, but the wall is about 20 000 kilometres long. This means it will cost a lot of money for the entire wall to be kept pristine in the battle against plants and the elements. So, in the older, less visited sections of the wall, nature is winning by wearing down the rocks, while plants are running wild.

Never underestimate the power of nature. It was here long before we were and will be here long after we are gone.

Get this:

Most of the bodies of the prisoners who died on Devil’s Island were thrown into the sea to be eaten by sharks, but there are a number of graves on the island too.

The novel Papillion by Henri Charrière is based on when he was convicted in 1931 of a murder he did not commit. After several attempts to escape the mainland prison, he was sent to Devil’s Island which no one could escape from… that is until he did.

Despite ships being sunk on purpose, other ships like the USS Arizona are a concern because it’s leaking ‘black tears’ due to the oil still in it, which may have an negative effect on the environment as it is causing the ship to break apart which means it will spew more oil.

The iron from these artificial reefs is encouraging the growth of Rhodactis howesii, a sea anemone that eats coral which was noted in a study of the Palmyra atoll.

When going to visit France or New Orleans, there are certain cemeteries that are suggested for those interested in the more macabre.

If you look at a lot of military cemeteries or memorials, they are always kept in pristine condition.


Climate change: “changes in the earth’s weather, including changes in temperature, wind patterns, and rainfall, especially the increase in the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere that is caused by the increase of particular gases, especially carbon dioxide.”

Notorious: “well known for being bad.”

Sperrgebiet: “prohibited area”

Ponder: “Think about (something) carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion.”

Macabre: “unpleasant and strange because connected with death and frightening things”

Supernova magazine Vol 8.6

This article first appeared in Supernova Volume 8.6
Words by Caitlin Brown

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