Soil, Erosion, Composting
Easter Island has a subtropical climate and the volcanic origins would have provided rich, fertile soils. For 100,000 years before the arrival of the first humans, Easter Island was covered by a subtropical forest of tall trees and bushes. Analysis of pollen deposits and the chance discovery of fossilised palm nuts in a lava cave also showed that the Island once supported the world’s tallest palm tree, a close relative of the Chilean palm that grows 20m high and 1m in diameter. These palms would have provided the rope and wood needed to build the amazing wooden ladders used to drag the moai from the stone quarry at Rano Raraku to where they were erected. This species of palm is now extinct and up to 16 other species of plants, mostly trees, that are common on other Polynesian islands, have also disappeared from Easter Island.
All of this dense subtropical forest has disappeared, most likely due to over-harvesting of wood for cooking fires, cremating bodies, building canoes used for coastal fishing and the ladders for moving the moai. The removal of tree cover engendered severe soil erosion, which continues to this day. Of the 14,238 hectares (86% of the Island) covered with vegetation, 78% is in a state of degradation to very degraded, 206 hectares has turned to desert. Only 3,911 hectares of the whole island in a normal state. On the volcanic outcrop of Poike, 300 of the 1400 hectares is severely eroded with ravines 6 meters deep and 50 meters large. More recently, Orogion National Park has been closed to tourism because whole chunks of the volcano are falling into the sea.
PAA organised a visit of Easter of Easter island's waste management department to Tahiti to see how they manage their green waste there. Subsequently, PAA was invited to attend the presentation of a pilot program, funded by the French Pacific Fund and implemented by ONF International, the Commission for the Development of Easter Island, (CODEIPA) and other local offices. This pilot program “Sustainable Management of the Natural Resources of Rapa Nui” has the objective of restoring tree cover, sustainable management of stockbreeding and the management of tourists. The Chilean National Parks Authority (CONAF) developed a nursery to produce 20,000 native and Polynesian plants in the first year. But their efforts have been hampered by a lack of funds and the necessary equipment, such as a grinder, to start a full scale composting program. PAA has continued to assist CONAF and the municipality to put into place a composting program and find funding to roll out the tree planting program.
Sponsor a bin campaign
Easter Island, famed for its Moai statues, is threatened with environmental catastrophe. The remote, almost treeless Pacific island faces the dual threat of desertication and contamination of its water supply from landfill waste. Seventy thousand tourists a year visit the island of nearly 4,000 inhabitants but there is almost no water sanitation. Ninety five percent of the toilets are pit latrines. The fresh water aquifer at the UNESCO listed World Heritage National Park of Anakena Beach has already been closed to human consumption due to contamination.
The “Sponsor a Composting Bin for Easter Island” is part of PAA’s ongoing efforts to help save Easter island’s drinking water supply from irreversible contamination, but also to assist in soil fertilisation and climate change mitigation. Our goal is to provide a composting bin to each of Easter Island’s 1,200 households, assisting local efforts to save the island’s environment.
Composting diverts organic waste from landfill, which threatens the Island’s water supply, while providing enriched soils for subsistence farmers to grow healthy foods. Tumbleweed’s composting bins are rust, rat and dog proof and are 100% recyclable at the end of their life. To assist our efforts, Tumbleweed have agreed to provide one extra bin for every 10 bins sponsored by PAA.
While keeping our eye on opportunities in the carbon offsetting market currently being developed, our keystone climate change program for the moment is our home composting program. 1kg of organic waste going to landfill yields 1 kg of methane, a gas that is 26 times more heat retaining, therefore more problematic than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.
Composting has added benefits by diverting organic waste from landfill, which on an island takes up valuable space and threatens drinking water supplies, while providing enriched soils for subsistence farmers to grow healthy food. The Tumbleweed composting bins we have selected for the program were tested by PAA for a year prior to recommending their use on island. These bins are rust, rat, fly and dog proof, which is very important on an island with a chronic rat problem and packs of dogs breaking into bins and bags or open backyard compost piles. Additionally, the bins themselves are 100% recyclable at the end of their life.
The current ‘Sponsor a Composting Bin for Easter Island’ campaign, launched in May 2009, is part of PAA’s ongoing efforts to help save Easter Island’s drinking water supply. The first delivery of plastic composting bins to Easter Island comprised 13 bins, two of which were donated to the municipality, one to the Governor’s Office and one to the Hotel Taura'a, the owner of which - Edith Pakarati - is an active member of the Chamber of Tourism and has been instrumental in encouraging good environmental practice in the tourism industry.
The bins were put together at the Municipality offices for maximal publicity value as there is important human traffic passing through on a daily basis. PAA’s CEO, Petra Campbell, demonstrated on local television how to use the bins and explained the value of composting. The bins have proven incredibly popular and the demand for them is enormous. We strenuously encourage donors to continue to support this program for the very tangible benefits they will deliver to maintain the quality of Easter Island’s soil, divert methane producing organic waste from landfill, and help to save the Island’s water supply.
The Easter Island Foundation sponsored ten bins, while the new Regional Manager for LAN Airlines, Mr Alfonso Luna, graciously maintained continuity of support by providing free freight from Tahiti to Easter Island. Ceva Freight Management sent the bins from Australia to Tahiti at a third of the market rate. Tumbleweed has agreed to provide one extra bin for every ten bins sponsored by PAA.