Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Garbage Dump That Used To Be A Coral Reef

The Maldives are an archipelago of 1,192 islands in the Indian Ocean, grouped into 26 atolls. Tourism is the country's most important source of income. The country has a population of 270,000. But last year 650,000 tourists visited the islands, but each of them produces garbage.

Thilafushi island receives hundreds of tonnes of rubbish from other islands in the Maldives archipelago every day. Sixteen years ago it was an unspoilt coral reef. But it is now growing by one square metre every day with rubbish.

Rubbish is shipped in daily to Thilafushi where it is sorted and sent to different zones around the islands. The authorities turned Thilafushi into a rubbish island at the beginning of the 90s because they could not cope with the ever-growing quantity of trash form tourists.

There are different zones around the island for different types of waste. The first delivery of rubbish was in 1992.

Disposing of plastic water bottles is a big problem on the island which was originally seven kilometres long and 200 metres wide. During its early years, pits were dug. But the volume of rubbish became too great to cover over with sand.

Souraf from Bangladesh throws rubbish into the sea. The lagoon in the background will eventually be filled with waste.

Around 3,000 people live on the island which has attracted other industries such as boat manufacturing, cement packing and methane bottling.

Thilfushi, like most of the islands in the Maldives, lies around only 1m above sea level and is therefore at risk of rising sea levels because of climate change. Toxic heavy metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium are already at risk of leaching out into the sea and damaging marine ecology.

Update: March 9, 2009: Elin Hoyland after reading my apologetic e-mail has allowed me to keep posting his photos (see comments). Elin's dealings with me were kind and gentle and I have developed a level of respect for her. I have also learned something about publishing photos and Public Domain. Interesting stuff!!

Anyway Elin suggested that I include this link: so that you could view all her pictures on this topic. Thanks so much, Elin.

Update: March 11, 2009: Elin has let me know that once again, I have managed to misunderstand. What I had actually been requested to do was remove the pictures and direct you to the above link to view them. So...the pictures are removed now and I invite you to view them at the link. They are wonderful!


kathi said...

Aside from the deep sadness I feel when reading these oceanic posts and being reminded of all the dead coral in our seas from garbage (my solution when visiting those areas is to dive with bags and pick up trash each day, modeling and explaining to indigenous populations whose hook is "if you want to make money off the water, you have to take care of it.") this actually gave me an idea.

In FL, around the keys, I've read of ways they are creating things for coral and attaching sea creatures to attach to. Maybe some of this garbage could be encased and used that way. Even the plastic if it was encased in something safe would eventually be covered with coral that is hard like concrete, stopping the photo-degradation. May not be a good idea, but may be for some of the non-toxic items. Wonder if anyone has looked into this.

Good job on the in-text hyperlinks, Philippa! It keeps the articles a good size while providing easy access for those who want to know more.

Thanks for reply on videos - I'll keep clicking the ones on the right. You have a bunch of great stuff posted. I often post link on my Facebook site to your site for something you have posted there.

Juley said...

Holy cow...that is disturbing. I know that most people would just rather not think about where their trash goes, but more people need to.

In the last year I have really ratcheted up my recycling and tried hard to have less waste. Some of the things I have done: use cloth napkins instead of paper, use cloth dishcloths instead of sponges, rarely use papertowels, use biodegradeable products, earth friendly cleaning products, use plastic containers instead of zipper plastic bags, use canvas tote bags for shopping trips, pine cat litter instead of clay, recycle every thing I can even down to receipts and little slips of paper.
I really think about the packaging of products I buy. If it can't be recycled I try to find an alternative product.

Thanks for the great posts phillipa. I know you from the bird boards you have posted on in the past :)

Anonymous said...

Could you please remove my photos from Thilafushi on the Maldives as you have not asked for permission.

Elin H√łyland (photographer)