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article imageChile restricts tourists and non-locals on Easter Island

By Miguel SANCHEZ (AFP)     Aug 1, 2018 in Travel

Tourists wishing to travel to Easter Island can now only stay a maximum of 30 days, after local authorities implemented Wednesday a measure to regulate population growth threatening the remote Chilean territory's environmental sustainability.

Despite its isolated location some 3,500 kilometers (2,000 miles) from the coast of mainland Chile the island is a popular tourist destination, not least due to its remarkable collection of around 900 tall human figures with distinctive features and standing up to 10 meters (32 feet) tall.

The unique Moai monumental statues were carved by the Rapa Nui people, believed to have arrived on the remote landmass in the southeastern Pacific Ocean in around the 12th century.

However, it is those very tourists, alongside mainland migrants, who have become a threat to the island's wellbeing. Chile, which annexed the territory in 1888, has decided to act.

"It is a magical island, we all want to visit it, but it is also a sensitive island and therefore we have to take care of it," said Chile's President Sebastian Pinera, speaking on the country's 24-hour news channel.

As of Wednesday, new rules are effect reducing the time tourists -- Chileans not part of the Rapa Nui people and foreigners -- can stay on the island, from 90 to 30 days.

Those wishing to visit Easter Island must now fill out a special form, have a hotel reservation or present a letter of invitation from an islander, along with showing round trip tickets.

Those who wish to live on the island are required to be a parent, partner or child of the Rapa Nui people.

Others who will be allowed to stay are public servants, employees of organizations that provide services to the government, and those who develop an independent economic activity alongside their families.

- 'Fragile' -

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.

Mayor Pedro Edmunds told AFP tourists are "damaging the local idiosyncrasy, the thousand-year culture is changing and not for the good," saying "customs from the continent" were infiltrating the island.

Crime and domestic violence figures are also rising.

It's 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 AFP.

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.

"Environmentally the island is very fragile," said Gutierrez.

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.

"I don't agree with these rules. It's not enough because it doesn't reflect all the aspirations of the island," he said, admitting that like "many other Rapa Nui" he favors a "total" ban on the arrival of new residents.

However, he said the legislation was at least "a good start."

Rapa Nui are a Polynesian people closely related to those on Tahiti, whereas the majority of Chileans have European ancestry, with a minority of indigenous peoples.

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