Imagine living on a floating island that you have built yourself from trash. It may sound unreal, but that’s the life of Richart Sawa, a British expat living in Mexico. Richart is the man behind Joysxee, an artificial island that is floating on 150000 plastic bottles in a lagoon on Isla Mujeres, close to Cancun. I first read about Joysxee a couple years ago, and while I was in Mexico recently I just had to visit Richart to see Joysxee for myself and to hear the story behind it. How do you build a floating bottle island anyway – and why?
Building a floating island out of trash
Building a floating island sounds complicated, but the structure of Joysxee is surprisingly simple. Furthest below the surface is a mass of plastic mesh bags that are filled with recycled plastic bottles and tied together. On top of this floating base Richart built a wooden platform, which he then covered it with sand. Most of the wood has actually rotten away by now, but this doesn’t matter because the growing island is now holding itself together in other ways.
Joysxee has a small garden with herbs, banana trees, pistachio trees, and other plants. The trees have multiple purposes in providing food, shade and structural stability. As the trees grow, their roots wrap around the bottles, tying them closer together and making the ground more and more solid. Walking around this small island it is clear that some spots are more stable than others, and these are the spots where the roots have penetrated the furthest. Slowly the trees are replacing the rotting wood with a more natural and resilient ground.
On this foundation Richart has built a two-storey house, mostly out of recycled materials. The use of recycled materials not only reduces waste, but it also saves a lot of money. Inside the house everything is a bit crooked because of the movement of the island, but this merely adds to the unique atmosphere. Richart wants to be as self-sufficient as possible, and so he is collecting rainwater from the roof. Energy comes from solar panels, but there are no batteries and so Joysxee is also connected to the electrical grid.
Joysxee has now stood for nine years, although a lot of regular maintenance is needed too keep it from falling apart. Sometimes bottles fall out and have to be collected and replaced, and sometimes Richart adds a whole new bag of bottles if an area starts sinking. The house also needs regular repairs, with wind and sun being the main enemies that damage the structure. But a floating island has its benefits, such as resilience to floods, and as the trees on the island grow stronger, Joysxee is becoming more and more like a natural island that can maintain itself.
The future and message of Joysxee
Joysxee is actually Richart’s third attempt at building a floating bottle island in Mexico. The first one was stopped early on by authorities, while the second attempt lasted seven years before getting destroyed by a hurricane. Authorities haven’t given Richart problems at Isla Mujeres but the neighbours have. Joysxee is located in a wealthy neighbourhood of Isla Mujeres, and the neighbours don’t like all the tourists visiting Joysxee. Richart has been renting a piece of land on shore from where he accesses Joysxee, but now he is having problems with the landlords. In order to gain more freedom and to become more self-sufficient, Richart plans to build a motorized boat using bottles.
Richart sees Joysxee as a sort of Noah’s ark that can survive Judgement Day. Indeed, the whole project is inspired by religion, and the idea of a floating island of trash first came to Richart in a vision he saw after praying for guidance. Years later a series of unexpected events took him to Mexico City and the floating gardens of the Aztecs. He remembered his vision and was so inspired by what he saw that he decided to start building his floating island in Mexico.
Whatever the inspiration behind Joysxee, it has a valid message to the world. Richart sees that we are not taking care of the planet and the Judgement Day he described was essentially an environmental disaster. Joysxee is becoming more and more famous, and Richart has been giving tours to curious tourists, and some visitors even stay overnight on the island. As more people visit Joysxee, they become more aware of the problem of trash – especially plastic. And what’s more, Joysxee shows these visitors the potential of turning trash from a world-wide problem into a resource.