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January 2016 NOVA Magazine
ritish 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 A merican
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
‘Spiral Island became such an
ecosystem that it was adopted
by a friendly iguana that lived
there and two turtles that would
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.
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
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
On a visit to Mexico
met an inspirational
environmentalist on his
island of plastic bottles.
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.
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