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Waves threaten Easter Island statues

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Posted at 2:29 PM, May 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-28 14:29:58-04
People get ready to take part in the bodysurf and surfing contests in Hanga Rio Rio on Chile's Easter Island (or Rapa Nui as its inhabitants call it) in the Pacific Ocean on February 5, 2015 during the 47th edition of Tapati, an all-out 15-day contest. Preparations for the events take almost a year, during which hundreds of plumed costumes, grass weaves and sea conches are assembled. AFP PHOTO / GREGORY BOISSY (Photo credit should read GREGORY BOISSY/AFP/Getty Images)

People get ready to take part in the bodysurf and surfing contests in Hanga Rio Rio on Chile’s Easter Island (or Rapa Nui as its inhabitants call it) in the Pacific Ocean on February 5, 2015 during the 47th edition of Tapati, an all-out 15-day contest. Preparations for the events take almost a year, during which hundreds of plumed costumes, grass weaves and sea conches are assembled. AFP PHOTO / GREGORY BOISSY (Photo credit should read GREGORY BOISSY/AFP/Getty Images)

Higher waves caused by a warming planet are chipping away at platforms that have supported some of the famous statues on Easter Island for more than 500 years, according to a United Nations report on cultural heritage sites and climate change.

“Some Easter Island statues are at risk of being lost to the sea because of coastal erosion,” said Adam Markham, deputy director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists and lead author of the report, which examined the potential damage climate change can have on 31 of the world’s more than 1,000 heritage properties.

“Climate change is affecting World Heritage sites across the globe,” Markham said.

The report, “World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate,” highlights the dangers of climate change to iconic sites including the canals of Venice, which are threatened by rising sea levels, and Yellowstone National park, where shorter winters and reduced snowfall have affected the park’s water supply.

The detailed research grew out of the Paris climate summit in December, where 195 countries agreed to reduce greenhouse gases to keep average global temperatures from rising by 2-degrees Celsius. Doing so will combat sea level rise, habitat loss and extreme weather events, experts say.

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY MIKE LEYRAL People wait next to a Moai, a stone statue, to receive fish during an underwater fishing contest in Hanga Roa on Chile's Easter Island (or Rapa Nui as its inhabitants call it) in the Pacific Ocean on February 10, 2015 as part of the 47th edition of Tapati,  an all-out 15-day contest between rival teams to crown a new monarch.  The new queen will reign for a year, and although she has no political power, she will be expected to represent Easter Island in other cultural events in Polynesia or Chile, of which the island is a territory. Preparations for the events take almost a year, during which hundreds of plumed costumes, grass weaves and sea conches are assembled. AFP PHOTO / GREGORY BOISSY        (Photo credit should read GREGORY BOISSY/AFP/Getty Images)

People wait next to a Moai, a stone statue, to receive fish during an underwater fishing contest in Hanga Roa on Chile’s Easter Island (or Rapa Nui as its inhabitants call it) in the Pacific Ocean on February 10, 2015 as part of the 47th edition of Tapati, an all-out 15-day contest between rival teams to crown a new monarch. The new queen will reign for a year, and although she has no political power, she will be expected to represent Easter Island in other cultural events in Polynesia or Chile, of which the island is a territory. Preparations for the events take almost a year, during which hundreds of plumed costumes, grass weaves and sea conches are assembled. AFP PHOTO / GREGORY BOISSY (Photo credit should read GREGORY BOISSY/AFP/Getty Images)

Statue of Liberty at risk

Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty also are threatened by sea level rise, more intense storms and storm surges, according to the report. When Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast in October 2012, three-quarters of Ellis Island flooded, causing more than $77 million dollars in damage.

The National Park Service said the Statue of Liberty itself is threatened by climate change and the cost of “future damage to this international symbol of freedom and democracy is incalculable.”

The report calls for more resources to secure World Heritage properties threatened by climate change and highlights the losses to the tourism industry, should the sites fall victim to a warming planet.