Build Your Own Tropical Island

Artist Richard Sowa turned plastic trash into a floating paradise

| September-October 2000

What would you do if you were living in a tropical paradise, needed a place to call your own, and were troubled by a proliferation of plastic trash littering an otherwise unspoiled beach?

That was Richard Sowa’s situation two years ago. The 46-year-old British artist was living in idyllic Puerto Aventuras, about 60 miles south of Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula. Over the next two years, he turned a personal vision into a community activity. Enlisting friends, neighbors, and local schoolchildren, Sowa collected 100,000 empty plastic bottles and packed them into fishnets to create the foundation for his new floating home. Sowa’s island now measures 16 by 14 yards and features a sand beach, palm trees, a one-room cabana, and a composting toilet.

Local authorities, who gave the artist permission to build his island as a community project, consider it Mexican soil. Sowa’s plan is to add to the island in ever-growing spirals, until it reaches what he says will be an oceanworthy size of about 80 yards across. Then he’d like to float it around the world.

From The Amicus Journal (Summer 2000). Subscriptions: $10/yr. (4 issues) from 40 West 20th St., New York, NY 10011.