Rano Raraku Easter Island
Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

Irreparable Damage to Famed Easter Island Stone Monolithic Sculptures Due to Fire

Easter Island has been closed to visitors once again.

A volcanic crater which is located on the on the lower slopes of Terevaka in Rapa Nui National Park on Easter Island in Chile, Rano Raraku was once a quarry for approximately 500 years, as it was the source of the stone which was used for carving most of the known monolithic sculptures known as moai on the island — and visitors can enter it only once during their time on Easter Island…

Irreparable Damage to Famed Easter Island Stone Monolithic Sculptures Due to Fire

Rano Raraku Easter Island
Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

…but greater than only two months after Easter Island reopened to visitors once again due to the waning of the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic, a fire which swept across 250 acres of this area caused irreparable damage to a number of the 887 famed stone statues in the area where they were created and resulted in the island once again being closed to visitors. Some of the moai were never finished.

Ten minutes is all the time that is needed to walk from Rano Raraku to Ahu Tongariki, which is where the 15 most famous moai are located.

Using Google Translate, the text from this official announcement on Facebook from the municipality of Rapa Nui — which is another name for Easter Island — is as follows:


Ariki Tepano, director of the Ma’u Henua community in charge of the administration and maintenance of the park, described the damage as “irreparable and with consequences beyond what your eyes can see, the moai are totally burned and the effect of the fire on them.”

Juliette Hotus, presidential delegate, repudiated the burnings and expressed her concern for the destruction of the “material heritage” of Rapa Nui.

“We are asking for the necessary tools, but if we do not have the collaboration of the community we are not going to move forward, that is why I call to denounce and not continue with these practices,” said the authority.

In the emergency meeting, convened by the Provincial Presidential Delegation, the aim was to advance in decision-making to prevent this type of situation. CONAF, Ma’u Henua, Marine Corps, ONEMI and Firefighters met to exchange ideas and carry out an analysis of the serious problems affecting the island.

Today the site will be closed for visitation, to allow investigations and observations by the conservation department team who will carry out a survey of the damage caused by the fire, both to the wetland and to the almost 30 moai that are inside of the crater.

The fire is thought to have been deliberately set by a human being — but that has not been confirmed at the time this article was written.

More information pertaining to this topic will be added here.

Final Boarding Call

Rano Raraku Easter Island
Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

The bad news is that some of the moai are apparently permanently damaged, which saddens me because I have seen them for myself…

…but at least plenty more moai are available for visitors to view.

Please click here for a list of articles pertaining to my experiences on Easter Island — along with plenty of photographs.

All photographs ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Who murdered these moai by burning them alive? Or burning the dead body? I am fortunate to have seen these before they were burned.

    When I visited, one of the locals told me that there were some USAF officers were there on official business evaluating the airport. When I saw them later, I said that they look like US military, which spooked them. Ha!

    I should have bought more souvenirs. I only bought a small wooden moai.

    1. I do not know how many — or even which ones — were burned, Derek.

      Hopefully, more information will be released in the coming days…

      1. Consider doing an encore review of Easter Island or even a re-written review. It seems the island is much more crowded with 100,000 tourists per year than when I went. When I went, there were 2-3 flights per week, each flight having only a few seats, perhaps 10. The rest of the seats were occupied by people to and from Tahiti-Santiago. There were SCL-IPC-SCL flights seasonally.

        10 seats equals about 1500 tourists. Maybe the seasonal SCL-IPC-SCL flights brought in another 5000. If so, that pales in comparison to 100,000.

        The Boeing 707 that I flew aboard was the last time I was ever on a 707 flight. Even at that time, the 707 was mostly obsolete and not used by most airlines.

        In those days, if one had appendicitis, one was rushed to Santiago if they had it the day of a flight. If not, a doctor (general practitioner, not a general surgeon) did the appendectomy using anesthesia for horses. Now, it’s possible to have an emergency appendectomy in Easter Island but not any other more complicated surgery.

    1. Many sources cite them as stone, michael.

      I would think that they were sculpted out of volcanic rock, given that the source was at the base of a volcano…

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