Claim: Climate is Endangering the Easter Island Statues

Easter Island Moai

Easter Island Moai. By Jmunobus (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Union of Concerned Scientists Climate and Energy director Adam Markham is concerned about the impact of climate change on the Easter Island statues – though relocating the statues is not currently on the agenda.

Climate Change Threatens the Moai of Easter Island

BY AMANDA ONION MAR 26, 2018

“Some of the moai have been knocked over in the past — including by tsunamis — and they have been restored. So not every site is in pristine condition,” says Adam Markham, deputy director of climate and energy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The difference now is that the danger is even greater. The rate of change is faster than ever.

On Rapa Nui, signs of damage from the incoming waves is already apparent. On the island’s southern coast, blocks of a 10-foot-high (305-centimeters-high) stone wall at a site called Ura Uranga Te Mahina, toppled over last year, according to a report in the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute. Ovahe Beach, at the island’s northern coast, used to be covered in pink sand, says the report, but waves have carried away most of the sand, leaving behind rocks. A nearby burial site has been left exposed and vulnerable to erosion. Conservationists are testing a newly built sea wall at one part of the island to see if it can offer protection, according to The New York Times, but it’s not certain that walls can hold off the ocean’s onslaught.

Is Relocation an Option?

Moving the hieroglyphics and some of the most vulnerable moai into protected enclosures might help ensure their survival. But relocating the statues could not only harm the works, it would also disregard their role at many of the sites as burial markers for remains of the island’s ancestors. The 1995 recognition of Rapa Nui National Park as a UNESCO World Heritage Site acknowledges the importance of the statues’ preservation where they now stand.

“It’s the same problem that anyone would have when thinking about moving generations of history buried within a cemetery,” Markham says. “A lot of very hard choices will have to be made but I would doubt that much moving of artifacts will take place on Easter Island.”

This isn’t the first time the island has faced ecological destruction. In fact, some have pointed to Easter Island’s history as a cautionary environmental lesson. Pollen grains found in the island’s sediments suggest it was covered in palm forest when it was first settled around 1200. By the time a Dutch settler came upon the island’s shores in the 1700s, he described the land as being of “singular poverty and barrenness.” What had happened to the island’s trees?

Read more: https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/climate-weather/atmospheric/climate-change-is-affecting-moai-on-easter-island.htm

To me Easter Island is a cautionary tale, it is a demonstration of what can happen if you overexploit natural resources, if you burn your woodlands for fuel instead of protecting forest habitats by digging up and burning coal instead. European biofuel advocates could learn from the Easter Island tragedy.

Update (EW). The final comment was meant tongue in cheek, I should have added a /sarc tag…

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83 thoughts on “Claim: Climate is Endangering the Easter Island Statues

      • Actually, men can become pregnant now. Actually they started out as females and half turned into males through treatment. BUT IT’S ALL THE FAULT OF CO2.

      • Actually the trend of people having sex change operations probably tracks the rise in co2 pretty well over the last 20 years or so, clear causation

  1. Most oceanfront areas, beaches or cliffs or the like, commonly erode. Or beaches build up, but it is variable, and things like seawalls will affect the movement of sand. How this is associated with AGW is decidedly a stretch.

    • It seems to me that multiple pictures and films made at Easter Island all place the statues well above the ocean.
      Something about giving their Moai great vantage points to look out…
      Seems to me these wunderchildren, Amanda Onion and Adam Markham, should be protesting hieroglyphics and homesteads that are left deep under the sea level rise caused by the Holocene deglaciation.
      Which, I am sure, they will also blame on “climate change”. Doh!
      Are there any real scientists left at UCS?

      • Actually, the Moai mostly look inland, away from the ocean.
        Turning their backs on climate change.

      • Notice the stands they sit on, probably 200 or 300 years of defense against sea level rise of 1.5 mm per year. Clear proof they predicted CAGW

    • When I took Geology 102, one of our labs involved studying maps of barrier islands and coastal areas of the Mid-Atlantic. Things I learned:
      Land moves. Especially on a coast.
      Sea walls, jetties, and other “fixes” do not necessarily stop or slow movement – and they often cause or exacerbate other problems.
      Land moves. Especially on a coast. RENT the beach house.

    • This is known technically as a Hail Mary pass. “Hey, we’ve got to come up with some new, calamitous effect of AGW if we’re to maintain our research budgets. I know – let’s blame the natural degradation of Easter Island statues on AGW!”
      “Great idea – AND we can justify trips to Easter Island as well!”
      Whatever works. As long as it gets that research budget renewed.

  2. After repeated invasions by Europeans, the Rapanui lost faith in their ancestor statues and lowered them all gently to the ground. After that they turned to the new religion of the ‘birdman’. Unfinished statues were used to guard the sacred crater area. The Islanders were not decimated by religious wars, inter-tribal strife and loss of trees, but rather by introduced diseases, slaving raids from South Ameica and forcible removal from the Island. Nothing in their story has anything to do with Climate Change/Global Warming.

    • Wally: You want proof.
      Benny Peiser of the GWPF laid it out several years ago in an article: “From Genocide to Ecocide: The Rape of Rapa Nui” here is the formal cite:
      http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1260/0958305054672385
      Free downloads are available if you Google Benny’s name and the article title. Highly recommended. Here is the abstract:
      “The ‘decline and fall’ of Easter Island and its alleged self-destruction has become the poster child of a new environmentalist historiography, a school of thought that goes hand-in-hand with predictions of environmental disaster. Why did this exceptional civilisation crumble? What drove its population to extinction? These are some of the key questions Jared Diamond endeavours to answer in his new book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive. According to Diamond, the people of Easter Island destroyed their forest, degraded the island’s topsoil, wiped out their plants and drove their animals to extinction. As a result of this self-inflicted environmental devastation, its complex society collapsed, descending into civil war, cannibalism and self-destruction. While his theory of ecocide has become almost paradigmatic in environmental circles, a dark and gory secret hangs over the premise of Easter Island’s self-destruction: An actual genocide terminated Rapa Nui’s indigenous populace and its culture. Diamond, however, ignores and fails to address the true reasons behind Rapa Nui’s collapse. Why has he turned the victims of cultural and physical extermination into the perpetrators of their own demise? This paper is a first attempt to address this disquieting quandary. It describes the foundation of Diamond’s environmental revisionism and explains why it does not hold up to scientific scrutiny.”

      • Your citation, for a theory, not proof, includes such unproven claims as “An actual genocide terminated Rapa Nui’s indigenous populace and its culture”, yet offers no such proof.
        That is what I was / am talking about.
        I have no problem with a general debunking of charlatan Diamond.
        There is no proof for an outside caused genocide of Rapa Nui’s indigenous people.
        Thanks.

    • “lowered them all gently to the ground”
      Silly. Easter Island was deforested by Saruman to outfit his Orc army, and when the Entwives had finished with him all that was left was a deeply silted grassy plain. The statues were buried by hill erosion. Where the Entwives have gone, no one knows. For more Easter Island fun have a good read with David Brin’s novel, Earth. He put gravity weapons into it for the express purpose that the Moai could get up and have a hoedown.

    • Diseases and slave raiding further reduced a population already far below its pre-contact high. There were a lot fewer Rapa Nuians in 1722 than previously. Dutch skipper Roggeveen estimated two to three thousand people, but that’s a very rough guess. Archaeologists estimate that the population might have been ten or twelve thousand just a few decades earlier. The high guess for pre-contact numbers is 20,000.
      So while Easter Island was devastated by disease and slave raids post-contact, its population had apparently already crashed.

      • The introduction of European rats to the island may have been another contributing factor. Ships didn’t need to make landfall for the rats to get there; rats are excellent swimmers and can survive treading water for several days, even in the ocean. They may have even migrated from other contacted islands, carried by the currents. Once they arrived, without local predators to keep them in check, it wouldn’t have taken long for them to devour food, disrupt shallow tropical tree roots with their warrens, spread disease, and generally wreck the place.

      • I can testify to two things from personal experience—rats can swim, and the European rat (AKA Norway rat) is much, much more destructive than the Polynesian rat. The Polynesian rat looks like a mouse on steroids; the Norway rat looks like a turbocharged beaver.
        I’d also doubt that rats made the trip with the original settlers of Easter Island. There are not many places to hide on a small catamaran of the type they used, it was a long trip, and rats have to eat … so the mariners would have found and killed them.
        w.

      • When Cook visited in 1774, he counted only 700 people. The moai had been still standing just four years previously, when two Spanish ships called, but Cook saw many toppled.
        The decline from the skipper’s guess in 1722 to Cook’s attempted census might be attributable to venereal disease carried by the Dutch and Spanish, but probably was from further decline from the prior causes. One estimate of population a century before Roggeveen’s arrival is even higher than that I cited above for just decades earlier, ie 15,000.
        The population crash worsened in the 19th century, thanks to smallpox, TB, Peruvian slave raids and transport of Rapa Nuians to other islands as workers.

      • Polynesian rats did make the trip with the people, just as they did to Hawaii.
        And once there, they did devastate the giant palm trees. Rats made up much of the diet of Rapa Nuians. Somehow the rats found things to eat even after they devoured the palm trees, or the people would have starved.
        They found a way to grow a few vegetables in the poor soil, too. They broke up rocks, scattered them over their gardens and thus slowly fertilized the soil.
        Without seaworthy canoes, the people couldn’t do much fishing, so the stowaway rats were their salvation.

      • “So while Easter Island was devastated by disease and slave raids post-contact, …”
        Your proof of that is where?
        Thanks.

      • Thanks for that, Chimp, I was clearly wrong. I hadn’t considered that they might have brought the rats on purpose, viz:

        They may not seem like something we’d take along for the ride, more associated with stealing food than providing it, but the Pacific rat is thought to have been an easily transportable source of protein for both the long sea voyages and eventual landfall.

        w.

      • Willis,
        That’s my opinion, but can’t rule out stowaways, since rats can get by on little and even one breeding pair could soon populate an island as small as Rapa Nui ankle deep, at least, in rats.

      • PS: Polynesian rats are supposedly the tastiest, maybe depending upon what they eat. But those I ate in Vietnam were larger rice paddy rats. Still not bad.
        Safer to eat than city sewer rats, anyway, I presume.

      • “Mountain rats”, not your dirty urban rats, are also popular in China.
        The other other white meat.

      • I once ate cane rat cooked in palm oil when I was working in a rural village in Liberia. It’s highly prized by the locals, who have little meat in their diets … I belched rancid palm oil for a couple of days.
        But although they are rodents, they’re not true rats. Instead, they are related to chinchillas, porcupines, and capybaras.
        w.

      • It might have been the rancid palm oil.
        Cane “rats” are remotely akin to the guinea pigs so prized in Peru. They’re not as big as capybaras, but larger than any rat.
        Guinea pigs and capybaras, like humans and other primates “higher” than lemurs and lorises (ie, apes, monkeys and tarsiers), can’t make vitamin C, but their gene for its synthesis is broken in a different place from the primates’. The gene of those bats which also lack the ability to produce vitamin C are broken in yet another way.

      • RACookPE1978 March 26, 2018 at 10:40 pm
        Polynesian pigs, like their chickens, originated in SE Asia. Asian pigs were probably domesticated in Vietnam. So I guess the ancient Vietnamese weren’t content with eating paddy rats.

  3. It’s never ending. As long as the MSM prints politically motivated conjectures we’ll have a constant flow of CC horror stories.

  4. Easter Island is nicely isolated. All ISIS could be rounded up and emptied out on the island with all their arms and ammunition. A naval blockade could then be mounted to ensure they don’t try swimming to freedom.
    Don’t worry about the moai, ISIS will deal to them as carefully, caringly and respectfully as they have dealt with other statuary and relics in Iraq … they will be in good hands …

      • Better just to kill them all and let Allah sort them out.

        That’s why you leave them all their weapons and ammo. Who can they shoot? Only each other.

  5. Perhaps someoen should check out the Statue of Liberty – it might need to be moved and stored inside for the same reasons.
    MJK

  6. I disagree with the standard rhetoric that Easter Island is a tale about unchecked (market) forces destroying the environment-it is more a tale of unchecked big government destroying the environment.
    It was the religious bureaucrats on the island who insisted on felling the forests for religious reasons and for ritualism-to transport the statues across the island required using large logs; the decline of the forests therefore had nothing to do with ‘market forces’, and much more to do with corrupt, self-serving government. Had the average person on the island been able to decide, they probably would have stopped making endless numbers of statues to venerate dead government officials, and kept the trees for prosperity.
    In other words, the environmentalists have got it backwards as usual, it is a cautionary tale about red tape, tokenism and unchecked government corruption and squander, not unchecked ‘market’ forces.

  7. ‘If you burn your woodlands for fuel instead of protecting forest habitats by digging up and burning coal instead.’
    Does that apply to tens of millions of tons of dead bug kill Pine/Spruce Woodlands all over western North America now that could be pelletized and burnt for thermal heat or electricity? Or other wood waste from forestry uses or Biochar? Sounds like generalist Alarmist talk to me Eric. This isn’t all cutting down the forest to roll some big stones to a location on the seaside such as Easter Island. Woodlands are completely renewable and are going to die anyway in the scheme of things. The highest and best use of any woodland, dead or alive, should be assessed before making blanket statements about an entire industry. Generally speaking, most woodlands have much higher and better uses for lumber, or pulp, or even parks. But to slander an entire industry with a broad brush is also naive.

    • Transporting beetle killed stands tends to spread the beetles more…It’s preferred not to do that. Anyway the eco loons wouldn’t allow it. We had a big fire 10 years back or so, lumber company wanted to salvage what wood they could. There’s a very short window to salvage the wood after a fire before it starts to rot. Enviro groups sued to stop the salvage, they would only allow the wood to be salvaged if there was no profit to be made off it. The wood rotted in place of course, providing fuel for the next big fire to pass through there.

      • Ah, I’m not so sure about the rotting information, unless it’s specifically it’s to pine. I have burned out land in South Central Colorado (Fremont county) for raged through there nearly 20 years ago. Any tree that isn’t laying on the ground is as dry as a nuns clam. Also, it is scrub oak, juniper, and some pines scattered about.
        I take a truck load home from every trip. I’ve never seen wood fire up so effortlessly

      • What the heck is the deal with these watermelons who hate profit? Ugh.
        They cannot see the glaringly obvious failure of the ideology. If you want to talk people to death, they need to be able to make money. Goodness, they don’t do much thinking

  8. Hmmm. I’ve been to Easter Island and what struck me was how they could live there at all for that long. No real mountains so fresh water is hard to come by. There are many theories on the trees but a prevalent one has been that the small rats that came with the first canoes were fond of the palm seeds. It’s only like 20 x 16 miles or so. It’s well worth the trip. The airstrip is supported by the US still, as it was an alternate landing site for the space shuttles and is ridiculously huge.

  9. I suggest we lay them down and bury them for safe keeping.
    Or has that already been tried? /sarc

  10. I believe I can see the climate threat already affecting the environment there. Lurking in the distance behind the Moai are trees and shrubs, thriving in the increased atmospheric CO2! Yet another man made tragedy for Easter Island… /s

  11. Here is an idea. Why not ask the natives what they would like to do with THEIR ancestors’ stuff? Are they concerned about it? Do they see this as part of a natural cycle and have no problem with these artifacts going “the way of the earth”? Obviously, document and study it as much as possible if allowed. (This is actually a big hurdle for a lot of archaeology.) But ultimately, there is a native population still there who (should?) have the right to call the shots.
    Also, this is not climate change damage. This is what happens when material objects get old. They get beat up and shifted, they are worn down by the elements, they decay. There is a reason artifacts in museums are handled with cotton gloves, the humidity, temperature and light are strictly controlled, and things get put in storage every so often. I am very much in favor of historic preservation, but acting like this is some new thing that would not be happening if people stopped driving or whatever? Give me a break.
    Think any of these bleeding hearts are actually going to donate any resources to actually do something tangible about this?

  12. It’s OK. They’ll live on forever in the Gradius series of video games.
    I mean, assuming those don’t disappear due to climate change as well.

  13. This recent research on Easter Island historic diet and resource use by humans, refutes the popular idea of “ecocide” by the Easter island inhabitants:
    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170710161438.htm
    The idea that the Easter Island inhabitants destroyed their own supporting environment is an important myth of environmentalism, that humans, left to themselves without ecological-moral instruction, destroy their own environment and devastate the biosphere. “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die”. It is false.
    1. They did not deforest the island and run out of trees for canoe making and fishing. Their diet never stopped contining fish. There is evidence that the islanders managed the forest carefully.
    2. They did not overfarm the land but engaged in fertilisation, mining rocks expressly for scraping powder off them to spread as fertlilizer
    “The Rapa Nui people were, not surprisingly, smart about how they used their resources,” he said. “And all the misunderstanding comes from our preconceptions about what subsistence should look like, basically European farmers thinking, ‘Well, what should a farm look like?’ And it didn’t look like what they thought, so they assumed something bad had happened, when in fact it was a perfectly smart thing to do. It continues to support the new narrative that we’ve been finding for the past ten years.” Lead researcher, Carl Lipo.
    My own theory is that, one day as teams were scraping rocks to make fertilizer, one bored individual had the playful idea to sculpt his rock into a head. His artistic efforts made him a hero among his fellows and a big hit with the ladyfolk. After that, sculpting of heads became part and parcel of scraping fertiliser off of rocks.

    • “There is evidence that the islanders managed the forest carefully.”
      Horsepucky. There wasn’t any forest left by the time the first europeans arrived. The endemic palmtree is extinct. The other tree species only survived because a norwegian expedition took seeds from the last few surviving trees growing on almost inaccessible rock ledges. These were cultivated in Kew and have now been reintroduced.
      “They did not deforest the island and run out of trees for canoe making and fishing.”
      The forests must have been very well hidden since no visitors ever saw them. The first europeans coming to Easter island noted that canoes were very few and inferior and built mostly from driftwood and that the natives mostly used boats made from totora reed bundles for fishing. I suppose they made it all up just to confuse politically correct anthropologists.
      I suppose all the birds that became extinct aren’t really either. They are just hiding…..

    • tty
      Please read the article which shows that over hundreds of year of habitation, islander diet and resource use was stable and managed. If you think Carl Lipo’s research is flawed, refute it in the literature, if you dare.
      I’m not disputing that around the time that the angelically superior white Europeans arrived, everything on EA went to hell in a handbag. So the question that remains is was it master race whites or wrong-color islander untermenschen who f**cked up the island. For many folks, that’s a question that answers itself, isn’t it tty?

      • The first europeans came to Easter Island in 1722. Cook’s second expedition visited in 1774 and walked across much of the island in search of a good freshwater source. The La Perouse expedition also visited the island in 1786. Their descriptions (and drawings) show that the island was at that time completely deforested. No european ever reported seeing the native Palm tree.
        The peruvian slave-raid that broke up the native culture (and introduced small-pox) was in 1862.
        I don’t doubt that resource use was stable during most of the Polynesian period. The native fauna (and part of the flora) on Pacific Islands was usually exterminated in a very short time and can only be found in the very first settlements. For some real science on the effects of the Polynesian dispersal I strongly recommend David Steadman’s “Extinction and biogeography of Tropical Pacific Birds” (which also covers Easter Island).
        According to the first visitors the Easter Islanders grew sweet potatoes, bananas and sugar cane and kept chickens, but they had no pigs. The chicken coops are described as being very solidly built of rocks, and much more durable than the houses people lived in.

      • tty
        Apologies for my un called for comments. My bad.
        I would guess that something bad must have happened in the century or two before (for instance) Cook’s discovery of the island. Maybe another seafaring people group landed on the island. Something must have disrupted the island’s culture leading to collapse of the civilisation that had managed the island more or less successfully for many centuries. After that, then there was likely a period of slash and burn and the the ecosystem was profoundly degraded.

  14. “Moving the hieroglyphics and some of the most vulnerable moai into protected enclosures might help ensure their survival.”
    I would say moving the hieroglyphics will be very difficult since there isn’t any.

  15. A comment on the Polynesian rat Rattus exulans. Yes it is edible (like all mammals and nearly all animals). It is smaller than the Brown Rat Rattus norvegicus (and the Ship Rat Rattus rattus) and is outcompeted by them. It is now largely gone from the New Zealand main islands for this reason. It is very bad for small ground-nesting birds.
    And, yes, it was widely eaten by the Polynesians. It is recorded that the Maori were envious when they noted the size of the rats aboard Cook’s ship.
    As a matter of fact large rodents are eaten quite widely. The Guinea Pig is an important meat animal in Peru. Personally I have only eaten three rodents: guinea pigs, agoutis and capybaras. Capybaras are delicious. Strongly recommended! One wonders why they aren’t farmed.

  16. Some quick research indicates the statues were carved from tuff: a soft basaltic volcanic breccia that forms from erupted material mixing with water. It makes sense. Try carving these out of basalt.
    Even hard basalt is quite reactive and weathers relatively quickly. Tuff will not resist the natural elements well.
    As for beach sand disappearing I am happy to put $5000 down that it will return within 50 years. When I was a kid (1960) we swam in a tidal rock pool on a coastal section not unlike I expect the study area to be. It is flanked by a basaltic volcano, is beneath a tuff cliff 80 m high, and is subject to heavy surf. When I went back as a teenager the pool had gone, buried beneath sand. I went back again on a geological study 10 years ago and vala! there was the rock pool, exactly as I remembered it.
    Cycles dumferks – cycles!
    Regards
    M

    • Very nice. Climate change endangers everything, you know.
      Rabbits are not threatened in any way, I don’t care what the Conversation says. Except by house cats. There’s a cure for that and it does not involve climate or fossil fuels.

  17. It’s my understanding that the seven figures shown at the head of the article were set up in recent times specially for tourists.

    • Correct. The first european visitors reported all statues still standing. Later visitors reported increasing numbers of toppled statues. By mid-nineteenth century all had been toppled, apparently during feuding between clans.
      A number have been restored in recent times.

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