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Thilafushi, or ‘Trash Island’, is the side of the Maldives you don’t see

A woman feeding kangaroos on a grassy island.

The Maldives is known as a stunning tourist destination filled with the bluest waters, the whitest sands and luxury resorts but behind the picture-perfect tourism is an island made entirely of trash.

Thilafushi was once a pristine lagoon but in December of 1991 that all changed, as it became the chosen location to store the growing amount of waste produced by the Maldives tourism industry. With the rubbish seemingly never ending and 330 tonnes of garbage brought to Thilafushi daily, the landmass is growing by as much as one square meter each day. With this landmass came opportunity and Thilafushi is no longer just a waste dumping zone but also a large industrial area with dozens of factories inhabiting the island, and workers whose purpose is to sort and sift through the rubbish.

While some commend ‘Trash Island’ for being an ingenious trash solution for a small island that supposedly has nowhere else for trash, and no close by islands to pollute, others see straight through to the pollution that is occurring. A large contributing factor is the unmonitored dumping which sees trash unloaded directly into the lagoon instead of through proper unloading methods, and with waste now drifting into the coastal waters there is no hiding from the real Thilafushi. Rubbish can be seen washing up on main beaches, dive sights are filling with pollution, and toxins are being pumped into the local fish – physical proof that the health and ecological problems are serious.

In 2011 the government temporarily banned waste dumping on the island and a fraction of the waste started moving to India for recycling, however this hasn’t stopped the depositing. While steps are being taken and machinery is now being brought in to better dispose of some hazardous waste this is a growing problem that needs consideration.

By all means don’t less this deter you from visiting this stunning location, but acknowledge the impacts your visit will have. Keep in mind that for every day you spend on the island you generate an average of 3.5kgs of waste per person and take steps to reduce your holiday footprint