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The Future Of Easter Island Is In Jeopardy, Thanks To Overtourism

By Danielle Dorsey

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Chile’s Easter Island is renowned for its archeological marvels, but mass tourism and bad behavior from said tourists are threatening the future of this historical site.

Trips to the southeastern Pacific island have increased from 5,000 annual visitors in the 1980s to well over 100,000 annual visitors today. Multiple daily flights from nearby Santiago, Chile, make the UNESCO World Heritage Site more accessible than ever, placing a strain on local populations and resources.

Archaeologist Jo Anne Van Tilburg, director of the Rock Art Archive at the University of California, Los Angeles and the Director of the Easter Island Statue Project, told CNN Travel that bad behavior from tourists is becoming more commonplace. “Because of the ubiquitous nature of photography in our community, people take the same picture repeatedly,” she said. “Once one person picks a nose of the moai, you can be sure there will be multiple thousands [of photos], because people are lemmings.”

The moai are the massive, centuries-old monoliths that were carved by the Rapa Nui people 800 to 1,200 years ago and are unique to Easter Island. Made from a porous volcanic rock called tuff, preservation of the statue heads is already in question. 20 of the figure heads have been chemically treated, but the island cannot afford to treat all of the moai.

Recent restrictions have been introduced to curb overtourism to Easter Island, including a 30-day visa limit for non-Rapa Nui travelers. Visitors must remain on a designated path and can only visit a few of the statues.

“Read and prepare. Once you show your guide you have a serious interest, they will take you seriously,” Van Tilburg said, offering additional advice. “Make your questions deserving of answers. There are 1,000 statues and there are 5,000 people. Their faces are just as important.”

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Danielle Dorsey

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