Climate Change Threatens Easter Island
Easter Island has long served as a reminder of what happens to a civilization when the environment it depends upon collapses. Now, the iconic remains of that civilization are under threat from a new environmental challenge: global climate change.
Easter Island, Rapa Nui in Polynesian, is surrounded by statues called moai situated on top of ahu, or platforms. But according to an in-depth report for The New York Times published Thursday, the moai are now at risk from erosion caused by sea level rise.
The article, written by Nicholas Casey with photographs by Josh Haner, launches a series by the Times called Warming Planet, Vanishing Heritage which examines "how climate change is erasing cultural identity around the world."
In the case of Easter Island, Haner photographed one moai that had fallen over and lies just yards from the edge of an eroding cliff; Casey reported on a stone wall that stood between some platforms and the coast and had partly collapsed due to powerful waves.
But while the moai are the most visible signs of Rapa Nui's heritage, what lies beneath them might hold even more cultural importance: The ahu the statues stand on often double as tombs.
Archaeologists told the Times that the remains inside these tombs might help determine what exactly caused the deforestation of the island and shrunk the population from the thousands to around 100 by 1870.
But for some islanders, the fate of the tombs has a more personal meaning.
"You feel an impotency in this, to not be able to protect the bones of your own ancestors," Camilo Rapu, leader of the Ma'u Henua indigenous organization that runs Rapa Nui National Park, told the Times. "It hurts immensely."
One landmark that has already changed dramatically is Ovahe Beach, which used to be covered in sand. The sea swallowed most of it, leaving only rocks, and now threatens a nearby burial site.
Hanga Roa mayor Pedro Pablo Edmunds told the Times about a time capsule the town had buried two years ago to be opened in 2066, including a picture of the still-sandy beach.
"They will dig it up in 50 years and see us standing there, where there is no beach," Edmunds said.
The loss of monuments could also damage the island's economy, which depends on tourism. In 2016, 100,000 people visited the island of 6,000, according to the Times.
There is debate surrounding what caused the first, infamous alteration of Rapa Nui's environment. In accounts like Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, the inhabitants deforested the island in the process of constructing the moai, leading to erosion, the deterioration of agriculture, starvation and war.
However, according to Scientific American, that account is now debated by archaeologists. There are no signs of armed conflict in the remaining artifacts, for example. Some think the process of deforestation was much slower and perhaps helped along by droughts or rats, and that the inhabitants were not necessarily aware of it as a catastrophe.
Now, some islanders find hope in those of their ancestors who did survive the mysterious collapse.
"They knew their environment was coming apart, but that didn't stop them from persisting here. It's the same with climate change today," Ma'u Henua's head of planning Sebastián Paoa told the Times.
Study Projects Two Feet of Sea Level Rise by 2100 https://t.co/h29H45myYN @TheCCoalition @CarbonBrief— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1518604507.0
At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>
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