01.01.2021 Environment

Plastic Paradise

Miranda Munro meets an inspirational environmentalist who has built an island of discarded plastic bottles

British artist Richart “Rishi” Sowa is a man living a life outside the grid of general experience, a man of incredible vision and focus existing as close to his truth as possible.

Many years ago he found himself on a Latin American beach pondering the state of the world’s ecology, the political barriers of land and the amount of trash and unmanageable waste that was being created globally. Combined with his concern about the effect overpopulation was having on the environment Rishi decided to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Armed with a drawing he had pencilled of a spiral island and filled with insight and promise he dreamt his dream into reality. Off the shores of Puerto Adventuras in Mexico he began his first, and the world’s first, bottle island in 1998.

The concept of creating land from trash inspired his passion. Rishi collected 100,000 plastic bottles and gathered them into onion sacks, which he tied together in a spiral to form the base of his floating paradise. The curled base was then put in the water and covered with wooden pallets and topped off with marine ply to form the solid ground of his spiral island. Soil was brought in by the bag and he spread it thickly atop his base providing the medium for plant growth. Mangroves were planted first as their roots would eventually penetrate the island and bind the bottles and platform into a living and unified mass. Next Rishi planted food crops of papaya, tomatoes, melons, herbs and introduced ducks.

Spiral Island became such an ecosystem that it was adopted by a friendly iguana that lived there and two turtles that would visit daily. Eventually, in two years the mangroves reached a heady eight metres and his garden provided an ongoing supply of food.

Spiral Island became such an ecosystem that it was adopted by a friendly iguana that lived there and two turtles that would visit daily.

News reached America and it wasn’t long before Rishi and his island were featured on Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Discovery Channel to be viewed by the public as something unusual and eccentric. This did not deter him from his purpose and goal to educate people that this was, in fact, a feasible solution to the endless clearing of precious land for housing, especially in already overpopulated environments.

Seven years into his project, Spiral Island was washed ashore during a fierce hurricane, and, although undamaged, it was impossible to relocate it back to the water and Rishi left Puerto Adventuras.

Undaunted, he moved to Isle Muejenus on the Maya Riviera near Cancun and in his measured and determined way he began again.

Having learned so much over the previous seven years Rishi leapt into the second spiral island project and one and a half years into it Spiral Island #2 is taking shape beautifully.

Once again mangroves surround the perimeter and small gardens are growing herbs and flowers. In the centre of the island is his small home – one wall of the house forms a cavity filled with trash bags and soil, with a flower garden planted on top.

Full self sustainability is his goal and the house is powered by photovoltaics and a self composting toilet provides fertiliser for his garden. The wizard of invention has made a solar oven and a washing machine that heats the water through the use of mirrors and uses the natural movement of the swell and tide action to agitate the water.

Rishi’s next project is to erect a sail to collect rainwater and funnel it into a tank that rises and falls independently of the island.

Rishi is not content with just living his dream; his vision encompasses a possible solution on a global scale.

He has designs and plans for the construction of groups of bottle islands that would link together forming self sufficient communities, a possible solution for areas of the world which are population-rich and land-poor.

Rishi has a contagious passion that shines from his eyes and embraces you when you are in his presence, a true inspiration of thinking outside the box.

Bottle Island, on Isle Mejeunes in Mexico is open to visitors, and donations go towards the completion of the project and to research and develop a large scale project.

Miranda Munro

Miranda Munro is a sound healer based in Toodyay Western Australia – kyela.com.au