A Quick Guide to Rapa Nui's Climate Crisis

How Rapa Nui is fighting to preserve the island's heritage

By CyArk

World Map, 5 heritage sitesCyArk

Where is Rapa Nui?

Where is Rapa Nui?

Rapa Nui, the indigenous name for Easter Island, is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. Polynesian people arrived in Rapa Nui around 1200 CE as part of the last wave of migration of these great voyagers.

Ahu Nau Nau on the Beach of Anakena in Rapa Nui (2019-01) by CyArkCyArk

What climate issues are affecting Rapa Nui?

Much of Rapa Nui’s material heritage is concentrated on the coast, making it particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels. The combination of climate change, and the coastal location of 90% of archaeological sites on Rapa Nui, create a particularly urgent situation.

Collecting Aerial Data of a Moai in Rapa Nui Using a Drone (2019-01) by CyArkCyArk

Why is tourism a big concern?

In 2017 the population of Rapa Nui was recorded as 7,750 residents with more than 120,000 tourists visiting the island. The carrying capacity of the island has been a subject of much concern, with water scarcity and waste production being highlighted as issues.

The Beach of Anakena in Rapa Nui Behind a Moai (2019-01) by CyArkCyArk

How is climate change putting Rapa Nui's heritage at risk?

The ahu and moai are iconic monuments, central to the identity of the Rapanui people as well as the island’s tourist economy. The loss of this unique cultural expression would have a devastating impact on the lives and livelihoods of the community.

Surveying Ahu Nau Nau in Rapa Nui (2019-01) by CyArkCyArk

How are the locals working to preserve their heritage?

Today, the local indigenous population is leading the charge on preserving their cultural heritage, maintaining their connection to their ancestors and the integrity of Rapa Nui's story that has captivated people throughout the world.  

CyArk Helping Locals of Rapa Nui Learn Digital Documentation Technology (2019-01) by CyArkCyArk

What are archaeologists doing to help?

Every day, Merahi Atam works to protect and better understand Rapa Nui’s heritage. As an archaeologist for the Secretaría técnica de patrimonio Rapa Nui, one of the groups responsible for the protection of sites on the island, this heritage is more than just an archaeological site for scientific study. 

Showing LiDAR to a Rapa Nui Local (2019-01) by CyArkCyArk

Can technology help too?

3D mapping technologies are used to record and create a baseline record of the sites. This can then be used in decision making and to create powerful visuals to communicate urgency. Site managers have also pioneered the use of adaptive structures including sea-walls to lessen the impact of erosion. 

Demonstrating Terrestrial Photogrammetry to Local of Rapa Nui (2019-01) by CyArkCyArk

What are Rapa Nui's goals to fight climate change?

In 2014, Rapa Nui launched an ambitious plan to be self-sustaining. In 2017 the indigenous organisation Ma’u Henua took over management of the National Park and together with the Secretaría técnica de patrimonio Rapa Nui are leading the fight against the impacts of climate change. 

Discover more

Discover how CyArk uses 3D documentation to empower local experts.

Find out more about ICOMOS' efforts to increase engagement of cultural heritage in climate action here.

Credits: Story

Professor Jane Downes, ICOMOS Working Group on Cultural Heritage and Climate Change, and Archaeology Institute Director, University of the Highlands and Islands UK.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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