Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Should Easter Island be developed?

The mayor of Easter Island in Saving Easter Island in Fotune magazine:

The island's mayor, Petero Edmonds, proud owner of an iPhone and a Louis Vuitton briefcase, has no shortage of ambitious ideas. In 2006 he championed plans for a casino (it was nixed by the Chilean government). Now he's talking about a second airstrip, a deepwater port, a modern health-care system, and medical tourism resorts. During a visit to his office he touts a study that says Rapa Nui can accommodate 150,000 people - nearly three times the number of annual visitors today. "The island is strategically located between San Francisco and Sydney. We are five miles off the international routing for cargo and tourism ships," Edmonds says. "There's opportunity for everybody - and lots of it."

What Easter Island already has:

In the midst of obvious poverty and a strained infrastructure, modernity has crept in. There's cellphone coverage and Wi-Fi (albeit at dial-up speeds). There's not a Starbucks or a McDonald's in sight, but there's plenty of fresh ceviche and even a few cappuccino makers, including one at the swank 30-room hotel Explora, which opened a year ago. The resort has a swimming pool, massage rooms, world-class food, and a decent wine list.

Development was complicated by rough seas and by Haoa. She found a cave in the middle of the building site, which forced the contractors to redesign. It was worth the effort. Room rates start around $700 per night, and Explora is booked solid during peak season. Now copycats are coming. A sprawling 100-room oceanside resort, Hanga Roa, is slated to open in July, and a handful of other projects are on the books.

Meanwhile this description of the technology involved in mapping the archaeology of Easter Island took my breath away:

The plan was to secure GPS coordinates and scans of significant artifacts and then overlay them on a map with Haoa's data, cadastral information from the municipality, topographical charts, and satellite imagery. Once everything was digital, Haoa could use the map to discern patterns that even her expert eyes hadn't noticed. The national parks department could monitor erosion; the municipality could simulate extremes in the drainage system or the effect of proposed development; and the mayor's people could plot world domination - sustainably.

Kelsey and crew started by scanning the Moai in the Ranu Raraku quarry. "They're the icons of the island, and a lot of them are in really bad shape," Kelsey remembers deciding, "so let's focus on those." The team would start as early as 4 A.M., establishing GPS points for each statue and running the green lasers over all sides to capture every nook and cranny. A laser scan can capture as many as 250,000 points per second in mind-blowing detail. To demonstrate, Kelsey opens a 14-gigabyte scan on his laptop and zooms in to show the chisel marks where the statue was carved almost a millennium ago. "We were making submillimeter-accurate models in real time," he says. The scans effectively captured a moment in time, allowing researchers and planners to track erosion precisely and consider solutions - whether building overhangs for the Moai or buttressing a collapsing cliff.

No comments: