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Easter Island under threat from tourists

Concerns are being raised over the ecological impact of heavy tourism to Easter Island.

Stepping off the plane, tourists are welcomed to Easter Island with a garland of flowers. They find themselves on a tiny dot in the Pacific Ocean, 3,700 kilometres west of Chile, to which the island belongs, and 2,000 kilometres east of Pitcairn Island. All around are the white-flecked waves of the Pacific. “What perfect peace,” exclaimed Thor Heyerdahl, a Norwegian explorer when he arrived in the mid-1950s.

He might not say so today. Some 70,000 visitors now arrive each year, up from just 14,000 in the mid-1990s. Apart from the island’s utter remoteness, what attracts the tourists are the moai, the mysterious giant stone statues erected by the ancestors of the indigenous Rapa Nui people. They are a testament to a complex society of up to 20,000 people that later shrank to a shadow as a result of calamitous environmental stress and deforestation, a cautionary tale narrated in Collapse, a book by Jared Diamond, a polymath at the University of California.

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