The Maldives is a popular tourist and honeymoon destination located hundreds of miles off the coast of Sri Lanka. It is an archipelago of beautiful islands with white sand beaches and sparkling blue waters. While the Maldives appear to be paradise, there is a dark side to this vacation destination that won’t show up in any brochures. The Maldives may look like a tropical paradise, but there’s one island that no one should visit.
Thilafushi started out as a sleepy lagoon in the Indian Ocean. It is located a few miles from the region’s capital of Male. As more and more visitors have flocked to the Maldives, Thilafushi has changed a lot. It is also a horrifying reminder of what progress can do to a tropical paradise. While people still love to visit the five-star resorts of Male, and the surrounding islands draw in tourists, Thilafushi is a time bomb that is slowly seeping poison into the surrounding waters. How did a gorgeous place take such a dark turn?
The Early Days
The Maldives has been the home to many fishermen and their families for years. While there, the people lived off marine life. In the 60s, there was talk about developing the Maldives as a holiday destination, but the United Nations shot it down. In the 70s, it was approved, and the first resort opened its doors in 1972. It wasn’t long before tourism became the island’s primary source of income. Today, there are over 130 resorts scattered across the Maldives 200 islands that are inhabited. In 2017 alone, over 1.4 million people vacationed on the island. One place that you won’t see on tourist is Thilafushi.
In the 90s, Thilafushi was a gorgeous lagoon, just like those that are homes to beautiful resorts. It is an artificial island only over two miles long, and less than a quarter-mile across. In the 90s, tourism in the Maldives had been flourishing for 20 years. With all of the people visiting the island, a steady flow of trash came with them. The locals struggled to deal with all the garbage. When Male became one of the most overcrowded cities in the world, they had no idea what to do with the island’s waste.
With the waste situation getting worse and worse, a bizarre solution was proposed. Officials thought that it would be a good idea to use Thilafushi as a large landfill site. In December 1991, the plan was approved. The first boatload of waste was taken to the island a month later. In the beginning, disposing of the trash on the island was simple. They used one landing craft, one wheel loader, two excavators, a few trucks, and workers. It was up to the workers to process the trash that arrived on the island. They had to create pits that could hold 37,500 cubic feet of waste.
In the beginning, the trash coming from Male went right into the pits without being sorted or segregated. When these dumping grounds got too full, they were topped with debris from local construction, and then leveled off with sand. This is what caused the island to grow. In just five years, the island became a dump for all of the Maldives islands. This was when officials realized that they had a unique opportunity on their hands. They decided to lease the expanding land to entrepreneurs for industrial ventures. In the beginning, 22 companies signed on.
While all of these plans were in the works, waste continued to arrive on Thilafushi. Soon, the island started being called Rubbish Island, and it kept growing. Over two decades, over 330-tons of trash was shipped there each day. Every 24-hours, the layer of garbage increased in size by a square meter. What was going on on Thilafushi was far different than what was happening on the other Maldive Islands.
It wasn’t long before more and more companies wanted to lease land on the island. Over 54 companies were on the island, and over 1.2 million feet of the island was dedicated to industrial activities. By this time, the island wasn’t just a dumpsite. It was also a hub for boat manufacturing, warehousing, cement packing, and methane bottling. Although the industry on the island was great economically, it was turning the island into an environmental disaster.
Massive Amounts Of Trash
According to experts, the average visitor to the Maldives produces about 3.5 kilograms of garbage each day. It is believed that tourists produce five times more trash than the residents living there. This equals to a lot of trash making its way to Thilafushi. The experts say that it isn’t just plastic water bottles and paper garbage making its way to the island. There is also toxic trash such as used batteries, asbestos, and other hazardous waste being brought there each day.
The trash and toxic waste being brought to Thilafushi aren’t just destroying the island. It is polluting the water, and noxious fumes are being spread through the air. Things got worse in 2011 when incoming freighters got tired of the long waits to dump their loads, so they started offloading their garbage into the ocean. This caused the government to put a ban on any trash at all going to the island. Today, the ban is still in place, and the garbage is shipped across the ocean to India. What happened to a once beautiful island is devastating.