Easter Island is renowned for its exclusive monumental statues that were carved by the Rapa Nui people that are believed to have arrived on the remote landmass in the southeastern Pacific Ocean in the 12th century.
Despite its isolated location that is about 3,500 kilometres from the coast of Chile that is a popular tourist destination thanks to its tall human figures with distinctive features and standing up to 10 metres.
However, it is those very tourists, alongside mainland migrants, who have become a threat to the island’s well-being.
Chile, which annexed the territory in 1888, has decided to act.
In 2007, Easter Island was designated a special territory while back in March, congress voted to limit the number of tourists and foreign or mainland residents allowed on the island, and the time they’re allowed to stay.
As of Wednesday, new rules will come into effect that reduce the time tourists, Chileans not part of the Rapa Nui people and foreigners can stay on the island from 90 to 30 days.
Foreigners are already taking over the island, said Mayor Pedro Edmunds told a leading news media platform. At the last census in 2017, there were 7,750 people living on Easter Island, almost double the population of a few decades ago, before the island was hit by a tourism boom and the real estate development that accompanied it.
Crime and domestic violence figures are also rising. It is not just obnoxious people from the mainland causing problems, though the increase in tourism is harming the environment.
All basic services are straining under the pressure not least waste management, Ana Maria Gutierrez, the local government’s environmental adviser told the media.
A decade ago the island generated 1.4 metric tons (1.5 US tons) of waste per year per inhabitant, but that figure has almost doubled to 2.5 tons today, with a population that recycles very little.
On arrival, tourists must present their hotel reservation or an invitation from a resident. The rules will also establish a yet-to-be-decided maximum capacity.
But Edmunds isn’t happy, as he feels the rules don’t go far enough to protect the island’s culture, heritage and singularity.