One of Easter Island’s world-famous moai statues has been destroyed in an accident.
A Chilean island resident was arrested on March 1 after his truck – a private vehicle, not a commercial one – crashed into one of the stone figures and badly damaged both it and the ahu, or platform, it was perched on.
Local authorities believe that the accident was caused by brake failure that caused his truck to slide downhill.
On the island, which is known as Hanga Roa by its native Rapa Nui people, the enormous stone heads called moai have long been a source of intrigue and wonder.
“The damage is incalculable,” Camilo Rapu, president of Easter Island’s indigenous Rapa Nui community, told CNN in a statement.
The island’s mayor, Pedro Pablo Petero Edmunds Paoa, is calling for stricter regulations that will prohibit vehicles from driving near the 1,000-odd moai on the UNESCO World Heritage-listed island.
Edmunds Paoa tried to pass an anti-driving measure eight years ago, he told Chilean newspaper El Mercurio de Valparaíso, with no effect. He believes that this week’s accident could be the motivating factor to consider re-introducing the proposal.
“The Moai are sacred structures of religious value for the Rapa Nui people,” Rapu said. “Furthermore, [the damage of the moai] is an offense to a culture that has lived many years struggling to recover its heritage and archaeology.”
Easter Island, a Polynesian island that is a territory of Chile, has long struggled to balance its status as a bucket list travel destination with the local Rapa Nui people’s desire to protect their heritage.
The moai statues represent ancestral figures and may have also been ways to show where fresh water sources were located.
Overtourism has been a major concern as the island became easier to access from the mainland, bringing more travelers.
In 2019, Jo Anne Van Tilburg, Director of the Easter Island Statue Project, told CNN Travel that bad tourist behavior, such as tacky photos of visitors pretending to “pick the noses” of the sacred moai, was causing a rift between travelers and locals.
“There are 1,000 statues and there are 5,000 people,” Van Tilburg said. She urged visitors to the island to show respect for the Rapa Nui community and to engage local guides and services in order to make sure tourism revenue stayed on the island.
Some measures to curb overtourism were implemented in 2018, including a changed visa policy that allowed foreigners and non-Rapa Nui Chileans to get visas for only 30 days instead of the previous 90.