Friday, 9 July 2010

Trash Resort

If garbage died and went to heaven, it would go to Thila Fushi, Maldives, where it would decompose (or not) by the seaside, warmed by the tropical sun, bathed by the rains and cooled by the breeze.

Thila Fushi sits two islands west of Male' in the North Male' Atoll. It was a short ferry ride to get there through rough sees and over the Gulhi Falhu reef which makes for some beautiful turquoise water in a lot of dark blue sea.

Thila Fushi is a reclaimed island. Reclaimed not in the sense that it was rescued or restored, but as in Merriam-Webster's definition 2b, "to make available for human use by changing natural conditions". It's a nicer way of saying "filled with trash and imported sand and gravel". I'm told this island is a garbage sandwich. Coral and sand on the bottom, garbage in the middle, coral and sand on top.

I suppose the island's composition is appropriate given its uses which are largely industrial. It's quiet dirt roads are very different from Male's paved and busy streets. It it made for an interesting excursion today. We saw two mounds of plastic bottles that were over 10 feet tall and longer than a bus. We saw a harbor that was full of trash: wood, plastics, and more. The water was hardly visible under the blanket of debris. Our guide, Shahid, said he has a friend who collects the wood and makes things from it. It was refreshing to hear that some of the reclaiming on the island involved taking debris out of the ocean and re-purposing it. Buck, with his architect hat on, was considering them as building materials. Shahid was saying the plastic bottles are a problem. Before they were brought here a decade or two ago, he raised the issue to say that if they were coming, a plan was needed to recycle them. A plant should be built. But no such thing has happened. The development here seems to have been rather rapid and not entirely planned and thought through. It worries me to see the bottles blowing int he window, floating gin the water, and dumped so close to the sea. I've been reading about the different swirling vortexes of plastic that exist in the oceans. I've spoken with the folks from 5Gyres who built a JunkRaft and sailed to the North Pacific Gyre to document it. I would think that an ocean nation would be a bit more considerate, that locals wouldn't simply throw their trash in the street or their plastic bottles over the sea wall. Surely they see it floating in the water. Don't know the best way to change the behavior, here or back home or in England. Education? Communication? Celebrities? Improved water quality?

I've been feeling guilty and seeing the plastic in the water made me worry about my contribution to the problem. I've had only bottled water since I arrived for health safety. I've opted for the 5 litre bottles rather than many smaller ones, except in restaurants where the 2 litre or smaller single use bottles are what's available. Maybe if the water quality was improved or the delivery system was changed, the water bottles could be eliminated. Wouldn't that be cool? Then we might have a country that could outlaw water bottles, just like the Los Angeles DWP.

Many laborers come to the Maldives from India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Most of the people on this island were Bangladeshi. We saw some men who had scavenged for scrap metal and were carrying it out to sell. (Reclamation in a different sense!)

Other highlights of the adventure were collecting some shells from the piles of rubble coral, seeing some birds (parrots, I think) at one of the accommodation sites, learning a bit about how boats are built at the Gulf Craft workshop, and getting to see first hand the trash, shipped onto the island in trucks carried on boats, sorted, and piled up. Some things to be incinerated, some not. (That's a 6 ft wall, by the way.)

All in all, a very interesting trip. And so nice to take a boat trip!


  1. Pauline Thompson9 July 2010 at 23:54

    I'm so glad that you went, so I could learn about this!

  2. Everyone in the world should see this. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Let's face the truth. There's too many people in the world. There's 7bln of us now, and estimated 10bln by 2050. Do we really need another 3bln people? Most of the poorest and hunger-risk countries like Ethiopia or India "produce" millions of new citizens every year. I can hardly imagine what impact they will have for environment.

  4. The people have no place to put their single use trash wrappers and bottles. Everything is imported and there is a lack of forethought on the matter of environmental stuardship. This is the result of rampant population growth, consumerism, and lack of education.