Lichen are eating away at the Moai, the 400 volcanic stone heads that dominate the skyline of Easter Island. Earlier treatments to preserve these ancient monoliths at this World Heritage Site called for filling some of the most deeply corroded stones with concrete. Unfortunately, experts think that this treatment might have worsened the damaging effects of the wind and saltwater that batter the Polynesian island. In fact, the lichen may even be feeding off the concrete used to save the Moai.
Professor Lorenzo Casamenti and five of his students from the restoration school Lorenzo de’ Medici in Florence have found an inexpensive treatment for the gigantic statues of Rapa Nui—the indigenous name of Eastern Island.
Casamenti visited Easter Island in 2008 and asked for samples of the island’s volcanic rock which, like the Moai, are also contaminated by these dangerous fungi. Lengthy research has now produced a “chemical” solution to the problem. “We have at long last discovered a solvent that destroys the lichen but not the statues,” said Casamenti.