Thilafushi: the "Rubbish Island" – Malé, Maldives - Atlas Obscura

Thilafushi: the "Rubbish Island"

Malé, Maldives

The exorbitant price of paradise. 


The Maldives island chain in the Indian Ocean is about as close as it gets to tropical bliss on Earth.

The smooth white sand, tranquil blue water, and beautiful foliage annually attracts 750,000 visitors a year. But unbeknownst to most of these tourists, for decades the rubbish they produced - 3.5 kg per day - was being ditched on a floating, heaping pile of trash.

In the beginning, Thilafushi was a lagoon composed of shallow coral reefs. In 1992, the Malé government decided to use the barrier island as the final destination for the enormous waste produced by their flourishing tourism industry. “Rubbish Island” as it was called, began receiving visitors in the form of massive refuse freighters, garbage excavators and migrant workers paid to handle the trash. For 20 some odd years, the man-made “island” was presented with approximately 330 tons of garbage a day, causing it to swell at a rate of one square meter every 24 hours.

The newly-generated land was soon leased to entrepreneurs who used the island for various industrial activities. The island has of course suffered from the haphazard waste. The outrageous number of flies is a disgusting addition to the area, but isn’t the island’s biggest problem. Commercial activity along with indiscriminate dumping has brought an abundance of toxic materials to the lagoon - broken oil drums, asbestos, lead, and other noxious metals mix in with daily household garbage items creating a noxious sludge. There is little around the island that goes unpolluted as harmful substances seep into the water and smoke from burning waste floods the air.

The government outlawed rubbish dumping on the island in 2011 after several freighters, impatient with the dumping process, jettisoned their loads directly into the sea. Garbage boats are reportedly now advised to shuttle their merchandise to India.

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