Thilafushi, located just a few miles west of the Maldivian capital of Malé, is a far cry from the white beaches and turquoise waters that surround it. Once a pristine lagoon, the artificial island now serves as a dumping ground for one of the most exclusive tourist destinations in the world.
Hundreds of tons of solid waste and toxic material from Malé and luxury hotels on nearby islands are unloaded on Thilafushi every day — a number that continues to grow as the amount of visitors to the islands steadily rises.
In 1992, the area was reclaimed and transformed into an artificial landfill in order to solve Malé's trash crisis.
The ever-growing garbage problem was brought on by by an increasing number of tourists to the Maldives.
Thilafushi accommodates only a few boats at a time for unloading, at times creating waits of up to seven hours.
Upon arrival, scrap metal, plastic bottles and cardboard boxes are sorted and sent to different zones of the island.
In December 2011, impatient boaters who started dumping trash into the lagoon instead of designated collecting areas created an overflow of garbage. This forced Malé city officials to temporarily close the island to conduct an emergency cleanup.
Potentially hazardous materials such as used batteries, lead, asbestos and mercury are mixed with municipal wastes, creating health and environmental problems.
A growing number of tourists and electronic equipment purchases has led to an increase in the amount of potentially hazardous material, for which there are no recycling facilities.
Additionally, because the island sits only one meter above sea level, environmentalists worry that toxic waste could leach into the water.
The island is now home to several dozen factories for boat manufacturing, methane bottling and cement packing.
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