A report in the New York Times yesterday says that parts of Easter Island are at risk of disappearing as sea levels rise.
Correspondent Nicholas Casey and photographer Josh Haner traveled to the island to see the effects the ocean was having.
Easter Island, found in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, is famed for its incredible statues first made by the Rapa Nui people centuries ago. At its peak, the island was thought to have about 17,500 people, but when Dutch explorers arrived in 1722 it had no more than 3,000. By the 1860s, they had disappeared.
Today, the Chilean island houses more than 6,000 people. But continued rising sea levels as climate change wreaks its toll risks washing away some of the remains of the Rapa Nui, notably the statues that 100,000 tourists visit every year.
“Many of the moai statues and nearly all of the ahu, the platforms that in many cases also serve as tombs for the dead, ring the island,” the New York Times notes. “With some climate models predicting that sea levels will rise by five to six feet [1.5 to 1.8 meters] by 2100, residents and scientists fear that storms and waves now pose a threat like never before.”
They note other islands are similarly at risk from rising sea levels, such as Kiribati, whose residents are often said to be the world’s first climate change refugees.
On Easter Island, three popular sites – Tongariki, Anakena, and Akahanga – are at risk of rising waters. Some statues are just a few meters away from rapidly eroding cliff walls. It’s still unclear what caused the demise of the original inhabitants of the island, and as it erodes the answers to that mystery could be lost.
It’s possible some of the statues might be moved, although that comes at the cost of losing their message in history. It’s certainly a sad state of affairs as the results of climate change become ever more apparent – and as Easter Island loses its beaches, it may also lose any remaining secrets hidden beneath its sand.