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Tropical Rainforests of the World Part Ten
2 years ago

AUSTRALIAN REALM

AUSTRALIA/OCEANIA


AUSTRALIA (0.1% rainforest cover)


Australia has two small areas of rainforest on the Cape York Peninsula in the extreme northeast of Australia and along the coastal plains and mountain ranges north of Townsville. This small (about 4000 square miles-10,300 sq. km) unprotected rainforest is very diverse: over 95 plant families, 1000 plant species, and 70 families of trees are contained in the 50,000 acre (20,000 hectare) forest. The forest provides a habitat for 30% of the marsupials of Australia, 30% of the frogs, 23% of the reptiles, 62% of the butterflies, and 18% of the birds. However this area is highly threatened by a subdivision development, a proposed electrical power grid which would lead the way to massive development, pastures for livestock, and exploitation for mining. The Cow Bay subdivision consists of 750 blocks which make up 60% of the lowland area and about 33% of the remaining forest. The development of the Daintree, as this region is known, has erupted into a controversy between political groups, residents, and outsiders. Pro-environment factions, along with the Queensland government are planning to spend almost $30 million to purchase 775,000 hectares of the eastern coast of the peninsula. The federal government contributed $11.5 million to buy back some 300 blocks of subdivision, although has only succeeded in obtaining 5% of its goal. Anti-environment groups include landowners of the subdivision who do not want to sell their land. Others want to develop the Daintree region for tourism. The anti-environmentalists have taken to killing wildlife and destroying forest on their property to show their feelings on the issue. At this writing, it is unclear which side will prevail.

2 years ago
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
 


The island of New Guinea, the second largest in the world, has one of the last great expanses of tropical rainforest. Although much of this area is still untouched and in some remote regions natives may have never seen a white-skinned person, the rainforest is rapidly being developed in more accessible regions. Today the island is divided into two parts: the independent country of Papua New Guinea (eastern half), and the Indonesian province of Papua and West Papua [formerly Irian Jaya] (western half). This summary regards the eastern half, Papua New Guinea (PNG).
2 years ago

Each year 50,000-60,000 ha are cleared totally and permanently: 50% for agriculture, 25-30% for industrial logging, and the rest for infrastructure. However, up to 100,000 additional ha are affected by selective logging. Almost all logging in New Guinea is conducted by Malaysian logging firms. Typically these timber companies pay landowners very little—about $4-12 per cubic meter—for logs, but charge up to $160 per cubic meter.

Since the late 1990s when the government tried to place restrictions on logging operations and faced an ugly rebuke from logging companies, there have been large grants of lowland rainforest for industrial logging under suspicious circumstances. Timber operators, knowing Papua New Guinea is rife with corruption, have generously bribed politicians and forestry officials to illegally acquire logging rights to land. In the most notorious incident, Malaysia-based Rimbunan Hijau was caught by the country's intelligence agency using bribes to secure leases and employing a terror campaign against local people. Rimbunan Hijau now has control of about 1.6 million hectares between the Western Province Border and Central Province according to an October 2005 article in Scoop.
2 years ago

While the government has faced widespread criticism of its handling of foreign loggers, in the summer of 2005 parliament passed controversial amendments to the country's forestry act that would enable loggers and the forest minister to be directly involved in the allocation of timber permits thereby worsening the forest management situation.

Despite the increase in logging concessions, deforestation has not increased significantly in Papua New Guinea since the end of the 1990s. While some 4 million hectares of primary forest was razed between 1990 and 2005, the annual average deforestation rate has held at about 1 percent per year.
2 years ago
A second major cause behind environmental degradation in Papua New Guinea is the mining industry. Some of these mining related issues were brought to light during the 1997 debacle caused when the government called in foreign mercenaries to end the decade-long uprising on Bouganville Island, a key copper producing site. The island, which is ecologically and geographically part of the Solomon Islands, bore environmental scars from ongoing mining operations which brought few benefits to the average local but polluted rivers and damaged adjacent agricultural lands. Mining had similar impacts on the main island of New Guinea. In the best known case, Australia/UK-based BHP Billiton paid indigenous peoples living along the Ok Tedi and Fly rivers $28.6m in an out-of-court compensation settlement for damages caused by mining operations. Reports from the field suggest that despite the payment, the mine is carrying on business-as-usual, dumping mine wastes into local rivers. Ok Tedi Mining Ltd., the company that operates the mine, has itself acknowledged that more than 200,000 hectares of rainforest could be affected by operations according to a report by the World Resources Institute.
2 years ago

The Papuan government has been slow to address mining pollution and associated deforestation due to the importance of mining for the national economy. PNG's rich mineral endowment, coupled with petroleum, accounts for 25% of GDP and 72% of export revenue.

The third, and most significant, threat to Papua New Guinea's forests is agricultural expansion. The country's high population growth rate means increasing amounts of land are converted for subsistence agriculture. Typically fire is used for land-clearing and at times—especially during dry el Niño years—agricultural fires can burn out of control. During the 1997-1998 el Niño event, fires burned thousands of hectares of dried-out forest while thousands of people died from food shortages and famine in the central highlands.
2 years ago


As Papua New Guinea's forests are lost and degraded, it also loses its diversity of plants, animals and indigenous people. Some 700 languages—more than 10 percent of Earth's tounges—are spoken in New Guinea, and there are at least as many indigenous societies. When developers enter a community, tribesmen are often forced to choose between their native way of life or selling their lands. At times tribal elders do not understand that the agreement they sign will take away their livelihood and may spell an end for their culture. They often believe that loggers merely wish to "use" their lands, not convert the forest into scrub or savanna.

Biodiversity-wise, Papua New Guinea has some 1571 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles, of which, 25.6% are endemic and and 7.0% are threatened. Papua New Guinea is home to at least 11544 species of vascular plants. In November 2005, the Papuan government announced plans to create 12 new protected areas that would add 771,451 hectares to the country's park system—an increase of almost 50 per cent.

2 years ago

At the 2005 United Nations summit on climate change in Montreal, Papua New Guinea led a coalition of tropical developing countries in proposing a plan whereby wealthy countries would pay poor countries to preserve their rainforests. A modified version of the proposal was accepted by the UN.

Papua New Guinea Forest Figures

Forest Cover
Total forest area: 29,437,000 ha
% of land area: 65%

Primary forest cover: 25,211,000 ha
% of land area: 55.7%
% total forest area: 85.6%

2 years ago
Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005
Annual change in forest cover: -139,000 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -0.5%
Change in defor. rate since '90s: 4.5%
Total forest loss since 1990: -2,086,000 ha
Total forest loss since 1990:-6.6%

Primary or "Old-growth" forests
Annual loss of primary forests: -250200 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -0.9%
Change in deforestation rate since '90s: 0.5%
Primary forest loss since 1990: -1,251,000 ha
Primary forest loss since 1990:-13.7%
2 years ago
Forest Classification
Public: 3.1%
Private: 0%
Other: 96.9%
Use
Production: 24.8%
Protection: n/a
Conservation: 4.6%
Social services: n/a
Multiple purpose: 4.9%
None or unknown: 65.7

Forest Area Breakdown
Total area: 29,437,000 ha
Primary: 25,211,000 ha
Modified natural: 4,134,000 ha
Semi-natural: n/a
Production plantation: 92,000 ha
Production plantation: n/a
2 years ago
Plantations
Plantations, 2005: 92,000 ha
% of total forest cover: 0.3%
Annual change rate (00-05): 1,980,000 ha

Carbon storage
Above-ground biomass: n/a M t
Below-ground biomass: n/a M t

Area annually affected by
Fire: n/a
Insects: n/a
Diseases: n/a
2 years ago


Number of tree species in IUCN red list
Number of native tree species: n/a
Critically endangered: n/a
Endangered: n/a
Vulnerable: n/a

Wood removal 2005
Industrial roundwood: 2,001,000 m3 o.b.
Wood fuel: 6,363,000 m3 o.b.

Value of forest products, 2005
Industrial roundwood: $6,330,000
Wood fuel: n/a
Non-wood forest products (NWFPs): n/a
Total Value: $6,330,000
2 years ago
PACIFIC ISLANDS
 


Many of the Pacific Islands are covered with forest, although exploitation is now escalating in places like the Solomon Islands. Forests of the Pacific Islands have been gradually reduced by subsistence agriculture, collection of fuelwood, and use of wood as building material, but today deforestation is heightened by tropical timber harvesting.
 

Solomon Islands




The Solomon Islands are an archipelago east of New Guinea with a land area of 28,000 square kilometers, 77 percent (2.2 million hectares) of which are covered by tropical rainforest. The majority of these forests are inaccessible to logging, being located on steep slopes and rugged terrain. Small-scale deforestation by locals has occurred over the last few centuries, but today forests are increasingly disappearing due to timbering and, to a much lesser extent, cocoa, palm oil, and coconut plantations. However, rapid population growth (2.7 percent) will put more pressure on traditionally un-loggable forests in the near future.

2 years ago

Commercial logging in the Solomon Islands is a recent development, which began only in the 1990s. Logging in places like the Russell Islands (Central Solomons) was prohibited throughout the 1980s, but worsening corruption among government officials in the mid- to late 1990s allowed foreign logging firms to secure logging licenses in previously restricted areas. The government took some steps to regain control over logging concessions with export restrictions on logs in 1997 and the nationalization of the timber industry in 1998, but the rate of forest loss has still increased 17 percent since the close of the 1990s. verall, the Solomons lost 21.5 percent of their forest cover between 1990 and 2005.

Very little of the Solomon islands is protected and logging has brought few benefits to the native population.

2 years ago
Hawaii


The only tropical rainforests in the United States are on the island of Hawaii. Hawaii is one of the world's most remote archipelagos, located 3,000 miles away from the nearest continent and 2,000 miles away from any other substantial islands.

Its 10 million years of isolation means that Hawaii has a high number of endemic species, although local biodiversity has suffered greatly from the introduction of alien species. These include mosquitoes—which devastated native bird life by the transmission of avian malaria and birdpox after their release in 1827 by a British vessel—as well as pigs, goats, cattle, sheep, domestic cats and dogs, wallabies, deer, mongooses, land snails, donkeys, horses, cane toads, rats, and chickens; many of these introduced species became feral populations. At least 62 endemic bird species, about two-thirds of the state's native birds, have gone extinct since humans first set foot on Hawaii. Though Hawaii comprises only 0.2 percent of the U.S. land area, it accounts for 70 percent of the extinctions in the U.S. and 25 percent of U.S. endangered species; yet the state receives only 2 percent of the nation's endangered-species funding.
2 years ago
Alien plants, like the passion flower and the poka vine, have also invaded and crowded out native plant species. Today more than 50 percent of plant species found on the Hawaiian Islands are foreign. At least another dozen species of plants, insects, or animals are said to be introduced into Hawaii each year.

In addition to foreign invaders, the rainforests of Hawaii have been cleared for timber harvesting, sugar cane plantations, pineapple plantations, and housing development for the tourism industry. Less than 25 percent of Hawaii's natural forests remain.
2 years ago
Guam

The largest (160 square miles) and southernmost of the Marianas Islands is located in the Western Pacific south of Tokyo. The northern area is forested where the U.S. Air Force has not built, while the southern area is grassy vegetation. The forest had 11 bird species until the 1960s, when a massive die-off began. The die-off was unexplainable but was attributed to many factors including DDT poisoning, introduced diseases and predators, habitat destruction, typhoons, and mysterious military activities. By 1986, after the extinction of six bird species, biologists concluded that the brown tree snake, introduced from the Philippines in the late 1940s, was the main culprit responsible for the declining bird population.

Fiji and Tahiti


Tahiti's rainforests still cover about 60 percent of the country, thanks in large part to the interior, which has been shielded from tourist development. Fiji retains 55 percent forest cover and has an ambitious reforestation program to reduce the pressure on natural forests. Eighty-four percent of Fiji's forests are communally owned.
2 years ago


The history of Easter Island, its statues, and its peoples, has long been shrouded in mystery. Some have suggested that aliens marooned on Earth planted the statues as signals to their fellow aliens to rescue them. Others have said that the statues were constructed by a great race of builders who were stranded on the island and built them before being rescued. Still others are convinced that an ancient society with the capability of flight constructed them along with the Nazca lines in Peru. However new evidence based on pollen analysis supports a much simpler theory, that the Easter Island inhabitants destroyed their own society through deforestation.
 

Consequences of Deforestation on Easter Island

Historical Consequences of Deforestation: Easter Island (Diamond 1995)
 


The history of Easter Island, its statues and its peoples, has long been shrouded in mystery. Some have suggested that aliens marooned on earth planted the statues as signals to their fellow aliens to rescue them. Others have said that the statues were constructed by a great race of guilders that were stranded on the island and built them before being rescued. Still others are convinced that an ancient society with the capability of flight constructed them along with the Nazca lines in Peru. However new evidence based on pollen analysis supports a much simpler theory, that the Easter Island inhabitants destroyed their own society through deforestation.

2 years ago
When Easter Island was "discovered" by Europeans in 1722, it was a barren landscape with no trees over ten feet in height. The small number of inhabitants, around 2000, lived in a state of civil disorder and were thin and emaciated. Virtually no animals besides rats inhabited the island and the natives lacked sea-worthy boats. Understandably, the Europeans were mystified by the presence of great stone statues, some as high as 33 feet and weighing 82 tons. Even more impressive were the abandoned statues-as tall as 65 feet and weighing as much as 270 tons. How could such a people create, and then move such enormous structures? The answer lies in Easter islands' ecological past, when the island was not a barren place.

The Easter Island of ancient times supported a sub-tropical forest complete with the tall Easter Island Palm, a tree suitable for building homes, canoes, and latticing necessary for the construction of such statues. With the vegetation of the island, natives had fuelwood and the resources to make rope. With their sea-worthy canoes, Easter Islanders lived off a steady diet of porpoise. A complex social structure developed complete with a centralized government and religious priests.
2 years ago
It was this Easter Island society that built the famous statues and hauled them around the island using wooden platforms and rope constructed from the forest. The construction of these statues peaked from 1200 to 1500 AD, probably when the civilization was at its greatest level. However, pollen analysis shows that at this time the tree population of the island was rapidly declining as deforestation took its toll.

Around 1400 the Easter Island palm became extinct due to overharvesting. Its capability to reproduce has become severely limited by the proliferation of rats, introduced by the islanders when they first arrived, which ate its seeds. In the years after the disappearance of the palm, ancient garbage piles reveal that porpoise bones declined sharply. The islanders, no longer with the palm wood needed for canoe building, could no longer make journeys out to sea. Consequently, the consumption of land birds, migratory birds, and mollusks increased. Soon land birds went extinct and migratory bird numbers were severely reduced, thus spelling an end for Easter Island's forests. Already under intense pressure by the human population for firewood and building material, the forests lost their animal pollinators and seed dispersers with the disappearance of the birds. Today, only one of the original 22 species of seabird still nests on Easter Island.
2 years ago
With the loss of their forest, the quality of life for Islanders plummeted. Streams and drinking water supplies dried up. Crop yields declined as wind, rain, and sunlight eroded topsoils. Fires became a luxury since no wood could be found on the island, and grasses had to be used for fuel. No longer could rope by manufactured to move the stone statues and they were abandoned. The Easter Islanders began to starve, lacking their access to porpoise meat and having depleted the island of birds. As life worsened, the orderly society disappeared and chaos and disarray prevailed. Survivors formed bands and bitter fighting erupted. By the arrival of Europeans in 1722, there was almost no sign of the great civilization that once ruled the island other than the legacy of the strange statues. However, soon these too fell victim to the bands who desecrated the statues of rivals.

Easter Island is a prime example of what widespread deforestation can do to a society. As the forests are depleted, the quality of life falls, and then order is lost. The example of Easter Island should be enough for us to reconsider our current practices.
2 years ago




EXTINCTION


Historic mass extinctions The greatest loss with the longest-lasting effects from the ongoing destruction of wilderness will be the mass extinction of species that provide Earth with biodiversity. Although great extinctions have occurred in the past, none has occurred as rapidly or has been so much the result of the actions of a single species. The extinction rate of today may be 1,000 to 10,000 times the biological normal, or background, extinction rate of 1-10 species extinctions per year.
2 years ago

So far there is no evidence for the massive species extinctions predicted by the species-area curve in the chart below. However, it is possible that species extinction, like global warming, has a time lag, and the loss of forest species due to forest clearing in the past may not be apparent yet today. Ward (1997) uses the term "extinction debt" to describe such extinction of species and populations long after habitat alteration:

Decades or centuries after a habitat perturbation, extinction related to the perturbation may still be taking place. This is perhaps the least understood and most insidious aspect of habitat destruction. We can clear-cut a forest and then point out that the attendant extinctions are low, when in reality a larger number of extinctions will take place in the future. We will have produced an extinction debt that has to be paid. . . We might curtail our hunting practices when some given population falls to very low numbers and think that we have succeeded in "saving" the species in question, when in reality we have produced an extinction debt that ultimately must be paid in full. . . Extinction debts are bad debts, and when they are eventually paid, the world is a poorer place.

2 years ago

For example, the disappearance of crucial pollinators will not cause the immediate extinction of tree species with life cycles measured in centuries. Similarly, a study of West African primates found an extinction debt of over 30 percent of the total primate fauna as a result of historic deforestation. This suggests that protection of remaining forests in these areas might not be enough to prevent extinctions caused by past habitat loss. While we may be able to predict the effects of the loss of some species, we know too little about the vast majority of species to make reasonable projections. The unanticipated loss of unknown species will have a magnified effect over time.

The process of extinction is enormously complex, resulting from perhaps hundreds or even thousands of factors, many of which scientists (let alone lay people) fail to grasp. The extinction of small populations, either endangered or isolated from the larger gene pool by fragmentation or natural barriers like water or mountain ranges, is the best modeled and understood form of extinction. Since the standard was set by MacArthur and Wilson in their masterwork The Theory of Island Biogeography (1967), much work has been done modeling the effects of population size and land area on the survival of species.

2 years ago
Easter Island settled around 1200, later than originally believed

Rhett Butler, mongabay.com
March 13, 2006


New evidence suggests that colonization of Easter Island (Rapa Nui) took place later than originally believed. The research is published in this week's issue of the journal Science.



Terry Hunt, an archaeologist with the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and a team of field researchers excavated archaeological deposits at the sand dunes of Anakena, the main canoe-landing spot on the island and found charcoal samples and rat-eaten palm nuts that dated to A.D. 1250. The discovery suggests that Easter Island was not settled until around the year 1200—400 to 800 years later than researchers originally estimated.
2 years ago
Hunt said that he chose to reevaluate previous radiocarbon results published for Easter Island due to inconsistencies in data reflecting the history of human settlement.

"It didn't fit with what everyone believed about the island's chronology," said Hunt.
2 years ago
Hunt and co-author Carl Lipo of California State University, Long Beach, applied a "chronometric hygiene" approach to exclude samples—like old wood and shells from marine animals—known to cause inaccuracies in radiocarbon dating. They found evidence to support the current assumption that settlement of the island occurred around 1200 A.D., a date that compares favorably to dates applied to human impact on the environment of Easter island. Hunt says "the evidence for later settlement also fits well with the emerging picture of chronologies for Polynesia."

A later settlement supports the premise that human impact on the environment played a key role in the downfall of Easter Island society.

2 years ago
"Human impacts to the environment, such as deforestation, began almost immediately, at least within a century," said Hunt. "This means that there was no period where people lived in some ideal harmony with their environment; there was no early period of ecological sustainability. Instead, people arrived and their population grew rapidly, even as forest resources declined. The short chronology calls much of the traditional story into question."

Last year Hunt presented research that argued that introduced Polynesian rats may have played a key part in the deforestation of the island's 16 million palm trees which were key to sustaining Easter's human population.

2 years ago
When Easter Island was first visited by Europeans in 1722, it was a barren landscape with no trees over ten feet in height. The small number of inhabitants, around 2000, lived in a state of civil disorder and were thin and emaciated. Virtually no animals besides rats inhabited the island and the local people—descended from a great line of seafarers, the Polynesians—lacked sea-worthy boats. Understandably, the Europeans were mystified by the presence of great stone statues, some as high as 33 feet (10 m) and weighing 82 tons (75 metric tons). Even more impressive were the abandoned statues-as tall as 65 feet and weighing as much as 270 tons. Anthropologists were long puzzled at how such a people could create and move such enormous structures with so little resources. The answer lay in Easter islands' ecological past, when the island was not a barren place.
2 years ago
The Easter Island of ancient times supported a sub-tropical forest complete with the tall Easter Island Palm, a tree suitable for building homes, canoes, and latticing necessary for the construction of such statues. With the vegetation of the island, natives had fuel wood and the resources to make rope. With their sea-worthy canoes, Easter Islanders lived off a steady diet of porpoise. A complex social structure developed complete with a centralized government and religious priests.
2 years ago


University of Hawai‘i at Manoa anthropology professor Terry Hunt. Photo by Jennifer Crites

It was this Easter Island society that built the famous statues and hauled them around the island using wooden platforms and rope constructed from the forest. The construction of these statues peaked from 1200 to 1500 AD, probably when the civilization was at its greatest level. However, pollen analysis shows that at this time the tree population of the island was rapidly declining as deforestation took its toll.
2 years ago
Around 1400 the Easter Island palm became extinct due to over harvesting and as Hunt argues, Polynesian rats, which severely reduced the palm's capacity to reproduce by eating its seeds. In the years after the disappearance of the palm, ancient garbage piles reveal that porpoise bones declined sharply. The islanders, no longer with the palm wood needed for canoe building, could no longer make journeys out to sea. Consequently, the consumption of land birds, migratory birds, and mollusks increased. Soon land birds went extinct and migratory bird numbers were severely reduced, thus spelling an end for Easter Island's forests. Already under intense pressure by the human population for firewood and building material, the forests lost their animal pollinators and seed dispersers with the disappearance of the birds. Today, only one of the original 22 species of seabird still nests on Easter Island.
2 years ago


With the loss of their forest, the quality of life for Islanders plummeted. Streams and drinking water supplies dried up. Crop yields declined as wind, rain, and sunlight eroded topsoils. Fires became a luxury since no wood could be found on the island, and grasses had to be used for fuel. No longer could rope by manufactured to move the stone statues and they were abandoned. The Easter Islanders began to starve, lacking their access to porpoise meat and having depleted the island of birds. As life worsened, the orderly society disappeared and chaos and disarray prevailed. Survivors formed bands and bitter fighting erupted. By the arrival of Europeans in 1722, there was almost no sign of the great civilization that once ruled the island other than the legacy of the strange statues. However, soon these too fell victim to the bands who desecrated the statues of rivals.
2 years ago
While tribal warfare likely reduced the population of Easter Islanders, Hunt suggests that most of the decline probably was resulted from early 18th-century Dutch traders, who brought diseases and took slaves from the island. Research elsewhere indicates that "first contact" diseases -- like typhus, influenza and smallpox -- carry extremely high mortality rates, often exceeding 90%. The first traders to reach the island likely carried such diseases which would have rapidly spread among the islanders and decimated the population.
2 years ago


Today Easter island is part of Chile and relies on tourism to sustain its small population. All that remains of the once great society is a few stone relics from the past.

Easter Island's demise caused by rats, Dutch traders says new theory


Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
December 6, 2005


Rats and European traders may be responsible for the mysterious demise of Easter Island according to research presented last week by a University of Hawaii anthropologist during an American Anthropological Association meeting.

2 years ago

Anthropologist Terry Hunt and colleagues say that introduced Polynesian rats may have caused the deforestation of the island's 16 million palm trees which were key to sustaining Easter's human population.

The history of Easter Island, its statues and its peoples, has long been shrouded in mystery. Some have suggested that aliens marooned on earth planted the statues as signals to their fellow aliens to rescue them. Others have said that the statues were constructed by a great race of guilders that were stranded on the island and built them before being rescued. Still others are convinced that an ancient society endowed with flight technology constructed them along with the Nazca lines in Peru. However new evidence based on pollen analysis supports a much simpler theory, that the Easter Island inhabitants destroyed their own society through deforestation and the introduction of invasive species -- specifically, a rat.
2 years ago
When Easter Island was "discovered" by Europeans in 1722, it was a barren landscape with no trees over ten feet in height. The small number of inhabitants, around 2000, lived in a state of civil disorder and were thin and emaciated. Virtually no animals besides rats inhabited the island and the natives lacked sea-worthy boats. Understandably, the Europeans were mystified by the presence of great stone statues, some as high as 33 feet (10 m) and weighing 82 tons (75 metric tons). Even more impressive were the abandoned statues-as tall as 65 feet and weighing as much as 270 tons. How could such a people create, and then move such enormous structures? The answer lies in Easter islands' ecological past, when the island was not a barren place.


Easter island
. Image courtesy of NASA

2 years ago
The Easter Island of ancient times supported a sub-tropical forest complete with the tall Easter Island Palm, a tree suitable for building homes, canoes, and latticing necessary for the construction of such statues. With the vegetation of the island, natives had fuelwood and the resources to make rope. With their sea-worthy canoes, Easter Islanders lived off a steady diet of porpoise. A complex social structure developed complete with a centralized government and religious priests.
2 years ago
It was this Easter Island society that built the famous statues and hauled them around the island using wooden platforms and rope constructed from the forest. The construction of these statues peaked from 1200 to 1500 AD, probably when the civilization was at its greatest level. However, pollen analysis shows that at this time the tree population of the island was rapidly declining as deforestation took its toll.



Around 1400 the Easter Island palm became extinct due to overharvesting and as Hunt argues, Polynesian rats, which severely reduced the palm's capacity to reproduce by eating its seeds. In the years after the disappearance of the palm, ancient garbage piles reveal that porpoise bones declined sharply. The islanders, no longer with the palm wood needed for canoe building, could no longer make journeys out to sea. Consequently, the consumption of land birds, migratory birds, and mollusks increased. Soon land birds went extinct and migratory bird numbers were severely reduced, thus spelling an end for Easter Island's forests. Already under intense pressure by the human population for firewood and building material, the forests lost their animal pollinators and seed dispersers with the disappearance of the birds. Today, only one of the original 22 species of seabird still nests on Easter Island.

2 years ago


With the loss of their forest, the quality of life for Islanders plummeted. Streams and drinking water supplies dried up. Crop yields declined as wind, rain, and sunlight eroded topsoils. Fires became a luxury since no wood could be found on the island, and grasses had to be used for fuel. No longer could rope by manufactured to move the stone statues and they were abandoned. The Easter Islanders began to starve, lacking their access to porpoise meat and having depleted the island of birds. As life worsened, the orderly society disappeared and chaos and disarray prevailed. Survivors formed bands and bitter fighting erupted. By the arrival of Europeans in 1722, there was almost no sign of the great civilization that once ruled the island other than the legacy of the strange statues. However, soon these too fell victim to the bands who desecrated the statues of rivals.

2 years ago
While tribal warfare likely reduced the population of Easter Islanders, Hunt suggests that most of the decline probably was resulted from early 18th-century Dutch traders, who brought diseases and took slaves from the island. Research elsewhere indicates that "first contact" diseases -- like typhus, influenza and smallpox -- carry extremely high mortality rates, often exceeding 90%. The first traders to reach the island likely carried such diseases which would have rapidly spread among the islanders and decimated the population.


Terry Hunt

2 years ago

Today Easter island is part of Chile and relies on tourism to sustain its small population. All that remains of the once great society is a few stone relics from the past.




This story used information from previous mongabay.com articles, UPI, and Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel and his later work, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.

2 years ago









Easter Island Mystery revealed using mathematical model
Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
September 1, 2005



Jared Diamond, a professor of geography and physiology at UCLA, has explored the mysterious demise of the people of Easter Island, one of the most isolated places on Earth. Now a new study from the Rochester Institute of Technology models the collapse of this once mighty society. Below you will find an overview of Easter Island from Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel and his later work, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, followed by an overview by NASA and a press release on the new mathematical modeling by William Basener, assistant professor of mathematics at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

2 years ago


Easter Island




The history of Easter Island, its statues and its peoples, has long been shrouded in mystery. Some have suggested that aliens marooned on earth planted the statues as signals to their fellow aliens to rescue them. Others have said that the statues were constructed by a great race of guilders that were stranded on the island and built them before being rescued. Still others are convinced that an ancient society with the capability of flight constructed them along with the Nazca lines in Peru. However new evidence based on pollen analysis supports a much simpler theory, that the Easter Island inhabitants destroyed their own society through deforestation.

When Easter Island was "discovered" by Europeans in 1722, it was a barren landscape with no trees over ten feet in height. The small number of inhabitants, around 2000, lived in a state of civil disorder and were thin and emaciated. Virtually no animals besides rats inhabited the island and the natives lacked sea-worthy boats. Understandably, the Europeans were mystified by the presence of great stone statues, some as high as 33 feet and weighing 82 tons. Even more impressive were the abandoned statues-as tall as 65 feet and weighing as much as 270 tons. How could such a people create, and then move such enormous structures? The answer lies in Easter islands' ecological past, when the island was not a barren place.
2 years ago
The Easter Island of ancient times supported a sub-tropical forest complete with the tall Easter Island Palm, a tree suitable for building homes, canoes, and latticing necessary for the construction of such statues. With the vegetation of the island, natives had fuelwood and the resources to make rope. With their sea-worthy canoes, Easter Islanders lived off a steady diet of porpoise. A complex social structure developed complete with a centralized government and religious priests.



It was this Easter Island society that built the famous statues and hauled them around the island using wooden platforms and rope constructed from the forest. The construction of these statues peaked from 1200 to 1500 AD, probably when the civilization was at its greatest level. However, pollen analysis shows that at this time the tree population of the island was rapidly declining as deforestation took its toll.

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Around 1400 the Easter Island palm became extinct due to overharvesting. Its capability to reproduce has become severely limited by the proliferation of rats, introduced by the islanders when they first arrived, which ate its seeds. In the years after the disappearance of the palm, ancient garbage piles reveal that porpoise bones declined sharply. The islanders, no longer with the palm wood needed for canoe building, could no longer make journeys out to sea. Consequently, the consumption of land birds, migratory birds, and mollusks increased. Soon land birds went extinct and migratory bird numbers were severely reduced, thus spelling an end for Easter Island's forests. Already under intense pressure by the human population for firewood and building material, the forests lost their animal pollinators and seed dispersers with the disappearance of the birds. Today, only one of the original 22 species of seabird still nests on Easter Island.
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With the loss of their forest, the quality of life for Islanders plummeted. Streams and drinking water supplies dried up. Crop yields declined as wind, rain, and sunlight eroded topsoils. Fires became a luxury since no wood could be found on the island, and grasses had to be used for fuel. No longer could rope by manufactured to move the stone statues and they were abandoned. The Easter Islanders began to starve, lacking their access to porpoise meat and having depleted the island of birds. As life worsened, the orderly society disappeared and chaos and disarray prevailed. Survivors formed bands and bitter fighting erupted. By the arrival of Europeans in 1722, there was almost no sign of the great civilization that once ruled the island other than the legacy of the strange statues. However, soon these too fell victim to the bands who desecrated the statues of rivals.
2 years ago
Easter Island is a prime example of what widespread deforestation can do to a society. As the forests are depleted, the quality of life falls, and then order is lost. The example of Easter Island should be enough for us to reconsider our current practices.




Image and text below courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory
2 years ago
On Easter Sunday in 1722, a Dutch explorer sailing in the vast and nearly landless waters of the South Pacific Ocean came upon a small island, alone in more than 8.5 million square miles of sea. In honor of the religious holiday, the explorer, Jacob Roggevee, called the lonely spot Easter Island. Today, the native people call the island Rapa Nui, but the oldest known name appears to be Te Pito o Te Henua, or "The Center (or Navel) of the World."

When the Dutch sailors arrived, the isolated island had already been inhabited for more than one thousand years, most likely settled by Polynesian sailors in canoes between 400 and 700 A.D. The most amazing cultural artifacts on display were giant stone statues, called moai, resting on ahu, a raised platform of expertly fitted stones. (Ahu also describes a sacred ceremonial site where several moai stand.)
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Most of the hundreds of moai on the island were carved out of volcanic rock in the crater of Rano Raraku, located in the southeastern part of the island. In addition to the hundreds of moai located at ahu around the island, Rano Raraku is littered with moai, some only half-carved, others that appear to have broken in the attempt to remove them from the quarry, and still others that seem to simply have been abandoned.

East of Rano Raraku is Ahu Tongariki, where in 1960 a tidal wave caused by an earthquake in Chile struck the southern coastline and swept 15 moai inland for several hundred feet. In 1992, the site was restored by a Chilean archeologist. On the western end of the island is the only town, Hanga Roa, where most of Rapa Nui's 2,000 residents live. South of the town is the island's largest volcanic crater, Rana Kao. Along the crater rim looking southward over the coast, lie the ruins or Orongo, a ceremonial site containing elaborate stone carvings and other artwork.
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Speculation about how the island's inhabitants built and moved the massive moai to ahu all along the coastline and at various sites in the island's interior has fueled scientific imagination and controversy that goes on today. Several experiments have been carried out using materials that would have been available to the inhabitants, and most scientists agree that any method they might have used would have required a large amount of wood and wood fiber: to construct sleds or other sliding platforms, to make ropes, and to create levers to help position the statues.

The demand for wood eventually stripped the island of nearly all its forests, and when the lush palm forests disappeared, the topsoil began to erode. Crops failed and archeological and anthropological evidence suggests violent civil wars and perhaps even cannibalism preceded the collapse of Rapa Nui's first civilization. The loss of wood guaranteed the inhabitant's isolation for hundreds of years. The islanders were unable to build canoes. After hundreds of years of isolation, the arrival of the Dutch sailors was probably as surprising to the native islanders as the discovery of a populated island in such a remote location was to the Europeans.
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Landsat 7's Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) instrument collected this image of the island on January 3, 2001.

NASA image created by Jesse Allen, Earth Observatory, using data obtained from the University of Maryland's Global Land Cover Facility.
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     Please stay tuned for Part Eleven.....
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