Mar 20, 2018

Easter Island Monuments Face Threat of Erosion

Rising sea tides could damage iconic Easter Island monuments through erosion

Erosion threatens Easter Island statues

Easter Island, located 2,200 miles off the coast of Chile, faced the threat of erosion that could damage historic statues developed by Polynesian settlers between 1400 and 1650 A.D. A recent report by The New York Times investigated coastal erosion and the threat to ancient moai statues, human figures carved by the Rapa Nui people, and ahu, platforms that serve as tombs.

Residents fear the island and its historic treasures will be at risk from rising sea levels. Already some moai have toppled and stone buriers protecting ahu have fell from the force of rising waters. A recent climate model by the United Nations World Heritage Center predicts sea levels will rise by 5 to 6 ft by 2100, putting low-lying islands at increased risk.

If the statues are damaged, Easter Island’s economy could take a hit. With only 6,000 residents but more than 100,000 tourists visiting the island every year, the mysterious statues play a vital role in both economy and island heritage. On Ovahe Beach, burial grounds are already feeling the brunt of the waves and a once sandy beach is now exposed volcanic stone, according to photos from Pedro Pablo Edmunds, the Hanga Roa mayor.

“I once swam in Ovahe and the sand seemed to go on for miles,” Edmunds told The Times. “Now, it’s all stone.”

At another burial and statue site, Runga Va’e, the Japanese government has provided funds to build a sea wall. The islanders hope efforts such as these will suffice, but many wonder if the artifacts should be moved away from the coast and into a museum. Park officials are considering anchoring carvings to more stable stone for one set of cliffside petroglyphs that portray island history.