Bringing Lobsters Back to Easter Island
Environmentalists are developing plans to restore the dwindling lobster population in the ocean surrounding Rapa Nui.
EASTER ISLAND — Just a few decades ago, lobsters were so abundant in the waters surrounding Rapa Nui that fisherman used them as bait. Now, scientists and fisherman are working together to ensure that the tentative population grows once again.
After the earthquake in Valdivia in 1960, a massive wave smashed into the shores and literally swept away much of the lobster population around Easter Island. Before 1960, lobsters were so prevalent that they could be captured and eaten at practically any hour. Today, a lobster is more of a special treat in the area.
“In 1980 you could find 100 in a cave, now you’ll only find one,” says Michel García, who has lived on the island since 1979.
Universidad Andrés Bello, (Unab) is currently conducting a marine investigation in the hopes of discovering why the population has dropped so drastically, and what can be done to help.
Unab began their study two years ago by exploring all 15 coves around the island. Enlisting the help of local fishermen, they provided up-to-date accounts of the lobster population. The university is also designing, and hoping to successfully implement, a model for the management of fishing in the area.
“The work with the community of fishermen in Rapa Nui is very intense,” said the director of the Center of Investigation for Unab, Diego Ramírez. ”We have spent hundreds of hours in the coves, examining the modes of fishing and management from the fishing industry’s perspective. It is essential that we observe these things to better understand the lobster shortage.”
Members of the university have emphasized the importance of working with local fishermen in order to find a balance between preserving the lobster population and ensuring that fishermen can still use traditional methods to catch and sell lobster.
“It is a complicated mix of traditional fishing and preservation. On the one hand, we have to catch lobster in order to make a living, but we also don’t want to lose the population forever,” said local fisherman Leo Rapu Tuki.
After the earthquake of 1960, the lobster population was drastically reduced, but fisherman continued to catch massive amounts of lobster as before, both selling them and using them as bait.
Unab has theorized that sea currents have also changed, along with the temperature of the ocean, making the island far less of a haven for lobsters. However, plans to repopulate the area are in the works and the community is cooperating to ensure that this can happen.