Garbage Island Maldives Dirty Secret
The Maldives are as exotic an island destination as any traveler could wish for. With more than 1,100 islands scattered across 500 miles of azure Indian Ocean waters, this is the perfect place to escape hectic everyday life. Despite the number of coral islands that make up the country, Maldives boasts only 115 square miles of land. Even though space is at a premium, the country manages to squeeze more than 100,000 people on the capital island of Male. However, Male only measures about two square miles, making it difficult to believe that 100,000 people could squeeze into such a tiny space.The fact is that the people do manage to make Male work, and to accommodate the demands of tourism. The hidden side of all that natural beauty and a capital city that seems to operate without a hitch, is the lengths to which the people must go for trash disposal. With every available space on Male occupied, there’s nowhere left to dump garbage.
The other islands in the chain are tiny and generally reserved for feeding the tourism industry. So what is a nation known for its pristine natural beauty supposed to do with its waste?It was a question that plagued Maldives for decades. In the 1990s, the government decided to reclaim the Thilafalhu lagoon with the purpose of using it as a landfill. Enormous pits were dug, and the country’s waste began arriving by the boatload. Initially, the sand that was dug out to form the pits was re-purposed as a covering for the garbage. All waste, regardless of its contents, was dumped together in the pits, with little thought paid to how the various ingredients might mix together to form a toxic soup.
Today, most of the waste taken to Thilafushi is burned. Employees at the site work 12 hour shifts seven days a week in an attempt to keep up with the constant flow of garbage. Only a small percentage of the recyclable items are set aside for recycling, with these items being sent to India.
Environmentalists have long been in an uproar over the practice, particularly because the trash is permitted to accumulate in the ocean where it can easily contaminate the food chain for people and animals.
While it might be easy to blame the locals for the trash problem, statistics suggest that tourists actually carry the brunt of the responsibility. Government numbers show that the average citizen in Male creates about 2.8 kilograms of waste every day, but visitors generate about 7.2 kilograms each in a single day. To top it off, with almost one million tourists flocking to the islands annually, non-locals outnumber citizens by about three to one.
Traveling green is important everywhere, but it is especially so in places with delicate environments and waste problems such as those in Maldives. Until Maldives addresses its garbage island, it seems wise to vacation elsewhere or to make a point of using stringent green practices while there.