Skip navigation
Go to home page > News > Our blog > Sharing knowledge on plastic pollution at the Rapa Nui Pacific Leaders’ Summit
Rapa Nui Pacific Leaders' Summit 2024 - Group photo in front of Moai
30/04/2024 Plastic pollution

Sharing knowledge on plastic pollution at the Rapa Nui Pacific Leaders’ Summit

Galapagos and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) share many challenges, and we also have much to learn from each other, as we discovered at the 2024 Pacific Leaders' Summit.

Lucía Norris

Programmes and Policy Manager

A couple of months ago, I received a fantastic invitation from the Municipality of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and the United Nations Development Programme to represent GCT and the Pacific Plastics: Science to Solutions (PPSS) network at the 2024 Pacific Leaders’ Summit, which took place between 2-6 April. The focus of the summit was ‘Ocean Protection and the Challenge of Plastic and Microplastic Pollution in the Region’, and I had the opportunity to present our research on the sources and impacts of plastic pollution in Galapagos.

The summit featured six panel discussions on a variety of topics, and I had the honour of being part of Panel 1, sharing the stage with Charles Moore (Moore Institute), Paulina Aldunce (IPCC scientist from the Universidad de Chile), PPSS member Martin Thiel, and Cristian Von Rietze and Fernando Trujillo of The Foundation for International Aid to Animals.

Lucía Norris presenting GCT's plastic pollution research at the Rapa nui Pacific Leaders' Summit 2024
Lucía presenting GCT's plastic pollution research at the Pacific Leaders' Summit © Municipalidad de Rapa Nui

Before arriving, I was full of anticipation and excitement about visiting one of the most remote islands on Earth. My expectations were exceeded. Rapa Nui is not only a centre of indigenous Pacific wisdom, but also a place to create deep, heartfelt connections with people and the Moana, the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean.

We all felt more than at home during our five days there. The Municipality and the people of Rapa Nui ensured that we felt welcome and were treated as dear guests in the magical place that is their home. During the summit, we learned a lot about plastic pollution from the panellists, with topics ranging from the presence of plastics in space and in human placentas, to the threat of geoengineering to our oceans.

Members of the Rapa Nui community in traditional costume
Members of the Rapa Nui community in traditional costume © Municipalidad de Rapa Nui

Rapa Nui is not only a centre of indigenous Pacific wisdom, but also a place to create deep, heartfelt connections with people and the Moana, the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean.

We were also immersed in cultural experiences that allowed us to understand the deep connection that the Rapa Nui have with their ancestors and with nature. The mayor of Rapa Nui, Petero Edmunds Paoa, told us about their sustainable development plan, ‘Plan Amor’ (Love Plan). This is based on the Rapa Nui’s ancestral values of self-sustainability, continuous improvement, optimisation of resources, and respect, creating a community that bases its sustainable lifestyle on its ancestral heritage.

On the final day of the summit, a significant milestone was achieved with the signing of the ‘Rapa Nui Declaration’. This Declaration was signed in a sacred place for the Rapa Nui, at Anakena, in front of the famous Moai statues, which represent the ancestors of the 15 clans of Rapa Nui. The Declaration outlines a collective commitment to ocean protection, and the fight against plastic pollution in the Pacific region. In addition, I supported in the gathering of women’s voices at the Summit, drafting the Testimony of Women Present at the Rapa Nui Summit. Councillor María Icka read the testimony aloud after the signing of the Declaration in three languages (French, English and Spanish).

I learned so much while I was on Rapa Nui. Galapagos and Rapa Nui share the unfair burden of plastic pollution that arrives on our coasts by sea, both from continental sources and from offshore fishing fleets. Rapa Nui has to deal with an enormous amount of microplastic pollution on their coasts, due to the island’s proximity to a garbage patch, or ‘trash vortex’, with the system of ocean currents known as the South Pacific Gyre bringing debris from across the Pacific region to the shores of this remote island.

Microplastic pollution on Rapa Nui
Microplastic pollution on Rapa Nui © Municipalidad de Rapa Nui

When I asked Marcos Tucki, my fantastic host, if the children on Rapa Nui know how to swim, he laughed and, looking surprised at my question, replied “We are born in the ocean”. I wish the same was true of children in Galapagos, where many young people are disconnected from the incredible nature that surrounds them. I also learned that, although health services on the island are insufficient to deal with major health issues, the community is assured that they will have good care and be transferred to the mainland in an air ambulance if necessary. In addition, they have all their expenses covered in Santiago while they recover, something that isn’t provided for residents of Galapagos.

The migration system is strict: all tourists entering Rapa Nui must arrive with a letter of invitation from a member of the Rapa Nui community or a hotel reservation. Water and sewage systems face similar problems to Galapagos, with the lack of effective sewage systems polluting fresh water. Rapa Nui also has a 750,000 km² marine reserve, almost three times larger than Galapagos, and their leaders are keen to learn from the measures taken to protect the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

Signing the Rapa Nui Declaration in front of the Moai
Signing the Rapa Nui Declaration in front of the Moai © Municipalidad de Rapa Nui

Attending the summit was a fantastic opportunity to build relationships with communities from across the Pacific, which are so vital as we strive to ensure that world leaders address the unfair burden being placed on oceanic islands and small island developing states. And in particular, it was the start of a close collaboration between GCT and the Municipality of Rapa Nui, which has continued to develop during the latest round of negotiations on the UN Global Plastics Treaty in Ottawa. 

Galapagos and Rapa Nui share many challenges, but we also have much to learn from each other.  More than anything, I realised that an entire community can be moved by love, love as a force for unity and change.  

Galapagos and Rapa Nui share the unfair burden of plastic pollution that arrives on our coasts by sea, both from continental sources and from offshore fishing fleets.

Related articles

Lava lizard and plastic pollution in Galapagos
21st May 2024
Plastic pollution Technology

Testing the latest technology in the fight against plastic pollution

Henry Moreau-Smith, Masters student at the University of Exeter, introduces us to his research and the technology he hopes will rid the Galapagos Islands of plastic pollution.
Read more
14th May 2024
Plastic pollution Women in science

Researching plastic and chemical pollution in Galapagos

Georgie Savage, PhD student at the University of Exeter, introduces us to her work on plastic pollution and shares stories from her recent research trip with GCT to Galapagos.
Read more
Plastic waste found in Galapagos giant tortoise faeces
13th Nov 2023
Plastic pollution

New research shows that Galapagos giant tortoises are ingesting plastic waste

A new study published in the journal Environmental Pollution has found that giant tortoises on Santa Cruz island are ingesting items including medical face masks, glass and plastic bags.
Read more
7th Aug 2023
Climate Plastic pollution

Climate change and plastic pollution: the inextricable link

Every year, approximately 300 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide, half of which are single-use items. An alarming proportion of this plastic ends up infiltrating our natural environment.
Read more

Get the latest news from Galapagos

Join our mailing list to receive our monthly email newsletter, bringing you the latest news on Galapagos and our work to protect the Islands.

Hidden
Share This Page