Thilafushi – A Garbage Island of Maldives? In the initial thoughts, you would probably listen about the un-imagined beauty of Maldives. But, what you have heard is that really Garbage Island in the Maldives? Yes, millions of tourists and four hundred thousands of permanent residents dump garbage each day. They dump it into another island of course.
What does an island with not a speck of land to spare do to get rid of garbage? The spectacular tropical island of Maldives is famous for its sandy beaches, luxury accommodation, and turquoise waters. However, very few people know the drawback of the dirty side of Maldives.
As per official statistics, a single tourist produces 3.5kg of garbage a day, twice as much as someone from Malé and five times more than anyone from the rest of the Maldives archipelago. The landfill island is a sort of eerie, beautiful apocalyptic art piece. Instead of looking at this wasteland is really horrific. The west of Male’ we could clearly see the thick cloud of smoke that endlessly leaves Thilafushi and disperses ever so gently into the blue sky.
The Thilafushi, the location of Maldives’s municipal landfill a few miles west of Male is the capital of Maldives and the most densely populated island on earth. Thilafushi, an artificial island 7km from the capital, is nicknamed Rubbish Island. You would be amazed to hear, that Thilafushi was not even an island and not always a garbage island.
Somewhere 25 years ago, Thilafushi was a pristine lagoon called “Thilafalhu”. However, in 1991 a decision was taken to reclaim the lagoon as a landfill to address the ongoing problems of waste disposal generated by the tourism industry.
Hence within a few months, the garbage started to thrive here. Massive pits were dug into the sand and waste received from Male and other inhabited islands of Maldives was deposited into the pits. Then topped off with a layer of construction debris and then uniformly leveled with white sand. Much of the rubbish comes from the luxury resorts which, reportedly, do not follow the rules on crushing their waste.
In a BBC report in May 2012, the island of waste was described as “apocalyptic” A local environmental organization “Bluepeace”, charges that used batteries, asbestos, lead, and other possibly hazardous waste, mixed with the municipal solid waste from Malé. It is seeping into the water and creating severe environmental and health problems in the Maldives.
Garbage Island is obvious that this island isn’t like any other island in the Maldives. There were NO white sandy beaches, swaying palm trees, grass huts, or crystal clear turquoise water. As Thilafushi’s landmass started to grow, the Maldives government started leasing out land to industries such as boat manufacturing, cement packing, methane gas bottling, and many large-scale warehousing.
So these days more than three dozen factories at Thilafushi. Garbage Island is home to 200 Bangladeshi migrants who sift through the 330 hundred tons of waste that arrive on the island each day.
The routine is for mainly Bangladeshi workers to sift through the trash to look for materials their employers can sell. Therefore, much is being deposited that the island is developing by a square meter each day. One drastic effect is, that some of the waste is now drifting into the ocean and getting washed at Male’s beaches and polluting many dive sites around the region.
Environmentalists also accuse impatient boatmen of dumping waste directly into the lagoon because proper unloading could take up to seven hours. Farther waste became such a big problem that the government once banned dumping garbage on the island in 2011. A little chunk of the waste is now getting exported to India to be recycled.
However, these images show the darker side to the Maldives – with huge amounts of rubbish washed up on the island’s pristine sands. It saddens me that islands are being trashed all over the place. Some the beaches are magnets for the world’s trash. The currents bring in debris literally from all over the world. It needs to stop because the Thilafushi islands and the sea life are paying a heavy toll.
Presently this is a big problem but the country relies on bottled water for health and hygiene. The Garbage Island to take care of the rubbish and its plume of smoke as you fly into Male. Many local islands have a garbage problem at the high tide line too. The culture is not educated in the ways of proper rubbish disposal and dropping litter is widespread. Just like the rest of the world, they all have to learn.
A plastic recycling company needs to create an agreement with the government to collect the plastic, educate the people and create a “greener” environment. The Maldives may claim to be the first carbon-neutral country but in reality, they have isolation and bad infrastructure for waste management. They need help! Let’s not forget the waters really are that clear, the sea life really is that amazing, tourism is their lifeblood- let’s not ruin that!