Plastic Paradise


Thilafushi was created to keep paradise pure, but with tons of garbage arriving by boat everyday, its toxicity threatens the existence of the Maldivian paradise itself.

The sea is so clear that only the bright, bouncing sunlight, indicates where the surface lies. Bending through the water, the light turns turquoise, then violet. The sky sits above the ocean like a vast bubble held up by the sun. Walking on the beach, sand as fine as flour runs between your toes. It is the quintessential image of paradise, laminated on each brochure and bringing in 600,000 tourists each year.

But in their wake they leave a lot of trash, and for years, there was nowhere to put it. In 1992, the government began building a new landfill island, Thilafushi, made from old bottles, oil drums and tin cans and growing one square meter each day.

Arriving by boat, trash of different types is separated by zone, making topographic views of the island a parody of landscape, such as a miniature desert of yellow petrol cans sitting beside a 15 foot mountain range of blue plastic bottles.

Workmen burn what they can, but fresh trash often arrives too fast and new waste is piled over old fires. They patrol the dump with hoses and disinfectant, sanitizing the top layer of the waste heap, but this island itself is built from shit, and they are trying to wipe it clean.

The air hangs heavy with smoke from plastic, varnish and cheap tin. Beneath the fires, beneath the boats arriving with fresh trash, untreated waste chemicals bleed underwater into the lagoon, turning the ocean to acid.

This acid is dissolving the coral base of the Maldives, which will eventually collapse. When the sea pours back over the land, this new island will have dissolved all the islands around it.