Deforestation, Collapse And Plastic Pollution At Easter Island


Naked grasslands in front of the iconic Moais at Easter Island. All photos credit: Paula Alvarado

A peak of wind over 40 knots (a lot) rocked us out of the South Pacific and we finally reached Easter Island, the end point of our trip with the 5 Gyres project exploring plastic pollution in the ocean. Our arrival to one of the world's most isolated pieces of habitable land (2,000 miles from the nearest continent and 1,400 miles from the nearest habitable island) was not without glamour: our boat anchored in Anakena, the kind of white sand turquoise water beach that populates desktop wallpapers.

Nevertheless, it wasn't long before we started to see the effects of ancient and current human impact in this amazing place.


Looking at the eroded hills from the boat on our arrival.

The first thing to notice about Easter Island is that there are little to no native trees. The story is a known one among environmental groups, often used to talk about the devastating effects deforestation can have for human beings: once blessed with lush vegetation thanks to its mild climate and volcanic origins, Rapa Nui's forest was cleared by the inhabitants of the island for fire and to build canoes and transportation for the giant Moai statues that populate the island. The destruction process was accelerated by rats, which chewed seeds preventing the regeneration of trees, as an article published in 1995 at Discover Magazine explains.

Without trees, the native birds that pollinated flowers and dispersed seeds died as well, and the locals had a hard time fishing without wood to make new canoes so they depleted offshore marine life.

Although some studies suggest that the natives were trying to adapt, develop sustainable practices and even to restore the soil fertility, going around the island proves they weren't successful. The naked hills and grasslands are only interrupted by small areas covered with some fruit and eucalyptus trees that look alienated from the surrounding.


5 Gyres' Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen cleaning plastic pollution at the Ovahe beach.

Hundreds of years after this process, another kind of destruction is taking place on Easter: this time, on the beaches. A group of crew members along with 5 Gyres founders Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins explored some of the island beaches yesterday, only to find them full of plastic pollution.

As mentioned in previous posts, beaches act as natural nets for the trash populating the oceans gyres, so the plastic that reaches sea is transported by currents and ends up in the sand.


Hopefully, the end of careless consumption.

"The End" was the chosen phrase for the sign we created at the beach with the trash we found: the end of our trip and hopefully the beginning of the end of careless consumption.

We still have a few more days ahead in Easter, where the 5 Gyres team will be busy organizing beach cleanups, presentations at the local school and interviews. We'll also be talking with Cummins and Eriksen about possible solutions for this issue. Hang in there for more on our South Pacific adventure!

More from TreeHugger's voyage with 5 Gyres
Catch Of The Day: Food Crate, Bucket, And Fishing Net From The South Pacific
Traversing The South Pacific Gyre: Plastic Marine Pollution Is Officially A Global Issue
First Evidence of Plastic in the South Pacific: Is This a Different Kind of Garbage Patch?
5 Gyres Founders Explain How Plastic Pollution in Oceans Really Works (Video)


TreeHugger's Paula Alvarado at Easter Island.

Deforestation, Collapse And Plastic Pollution At Easter Island
A peak of wind over 40 knots (a lot) rocked us out of the South Pacific and we finally reached Easter Island, the end point of our trip with the 5 Gyres