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Interestingly, the first recorded European visitor to Easter Island gave the Island its name simply because he discovered it on Easter Sunday in 1722. At this time, the island had few inhabitants who were less than 2000 people. Although few people inhabited the island, there was evidence that the island had undergone sophisticated civilization with lush forest, which supported a relatively large population (at that time) of 6000 to 30000 people.
The drastic decline in the population of people in the Island relates closely to the over-exploitation and overutilization of the natural resources of the island. The unabated depletion of the natural resources such as forests gave way to adverse climatic conditions causing people to migrate away from Easter Island. Therefore, overutilization of the limited resources causes adverse effects on the environment and the inhabitants.
Geographically, the Easter Island lies at an altitude of about 507 meters above sea level with an approximate land area of about 163.6 square kilometers. The altitude and land size favor the establishment of subtropical moist broadleaf forest, which the island supported before deforestation (Diamond, 2005, p.467). Due to the depletion of natural forests through deforestation for settlement and farming, the island in the recent time remains ’robbed’ off all the indigenous forest cover leaving the place remote and deserted.
Moreover, the outstanding numerous statues erected on the Easter Island signifies that deforestation took place to create space for the formation and erection of the statutes. Trees are sparse, rarely forming natural groves and statues stand in ‘Y’ shaped wooden frames or have a wooden ladder used in the erection of the statues in their sites (Baker, Buckley, & Holland, 1974, p.85).
Extinction of palm tree remains evidence of mass deforestation in the island although other factors such as the climatic inclination of the little ice age could have contributed significantly to the deforestation in conjunction with the Polynesian rat, brought by the original settlers of the Island. Polynesian rat “impeded the palm’s reproduction and played a very important role in the disappearance of the palm trees” (Englert, 1970, p.112), which led to the loss of palm trees in Easter Island.
The population of Easter Island decreased drastically due to the depletion of the natural limited natural resources because, at the time of its initial colonization, the large broadleaf forests and palm dominated the Island; however, grasses, shrubs, and few trees mainly cover Easter Island and very few people inhabit the island in contemporary times.
The presence of few people inhabiting Easter Island and depletion of the forest with marked extinction of indigenous palm trees is a clear indication that people have migrated away from the island as natural resources became exhausted and therefore the absence of resources to support life led to the migration.
Furthermore, the presence of erected statues in the Island depicts the initial sophisticated civilization, which led to the overuse of the natural resources (Hunt, 2006, p.412). The erected statues coupled with their accessories contributed to the depletion of natural resources as their formation involved wooden framework and their site of erection required clearance of natural forest.
In my opinion, I do believe that Easter Island holds an important lesson to all humankind concerning the use of limited natural resources. For instance, overutilization of natural resources can lead to depopulation of an area and a drastic drawback in civilization as justified in the Easter Island.
Recent reports from the Easter Island show that human population now stands at 4781, which is a drop from the initial 30000 people during civilization. People migrated out of the Island as famine set in due to poor weather conditions.
Depletion of natural resources through overutilization in Eastern Island has led to devastating results including the mass movement of people from the area. Lack of adequate resources due to either overutilization or limited natural supply would affect the climatic condition of an area negatively leading to the phenomenon of famine, which forces people to move to better places.
Baker, P., Buckley, F., & Holland, J. (1974). Petrology and geochemistry of Easter Island. Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology, 44(2), 85–100.
Diamond, J. (2005). Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York Penguin Books
Englert, S. (1970). Island at the Center of the World. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
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Hunt, T. (2006). Rethinking the fall of Easter Island. American Scientist journal, 94(3), 412-16.