Man (Re)Builds Mexican Island Paradise on 250,000 Recycled Floating Bottles

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Spiral Island Closeup

If you can’t afford to buy your own tropical island paradise, why not build your own? That is exactly what Richie Sowa did back in 1998, from over a quarter-million plastic bottles. His Spiral Island, destroyed years later by a hurricane, sported a two-story house, solar oven, self-composting toilet and multiple beaches. Better yet, he has started building another one! His ultimate goal? To build the island bigger and bigger and finally float out to sea, traveling the world from the comfort of his own private paradise.

Spiral Island Construction and Steering

The original Spiral Island was (as its successor will be) built upon a floating collection used plastic bottles, all netted together to support a bamboo and plywood structure above. Located in Mexico, the original was 66 by 54 feet and was able to support full-sized mangroves to provide shade and privacy, yet also able to be moved from place to place by its creator as need with a simple motorized system.

Spiral Island Early Stages

An environmentalist to the core, Sowa is also an artist and a musician. More than just the universal dream of an island retreat, Spiral Island is also his vision for low-impact sustainable living. The next version of the island will be built to withstand more treacherous weather than the first and will also be located in a more sheltered part of Mexico’s waters.

The Above Ripley’s Believe-it-or-Not video is a great introduction to the island, which conjures images of Gilligan-done-right. Spiral island is able to exist and move about in Mexico in part because it is classified as a ship, not an island, like an atoll out of WaterWorld (only much much cooler). On September 7, 2007 the new Spiral Islander social network utility was opened to the public to allow visitors, Spiral Islanders and friends of Richie Sowa to connect and communicate about the history of Spiral Island and to learn more and discuss Richie Sowa’s new Spiral Island. Want more islands? See these 7 Island Wonders of the World from WebUrbanist.

90 thoughts on “Man (Re)Builds Mexican Island Paradise on 250,000 Recycled Floating Bottles”

  1. just remember this Alex, you're one in a million on this planet and one day you may find yourself in someone else that thinks just like you. you're a leader so don't follow the idiots!

  2. me and my friends are going to build our own version of this island. we have a good source of bottles from our high school but we are trying to figure out how much weight an average water bottle can suporrt.

  3. me and my friends are going to build our own version of this island. we have a good source of bottles from our high school but we are trying to figure out how much weight an average water bottle can suporrt.

  4. Sorry to say this is not new…I can find people living on garbage dumps all over the world. So his floats, it is still nothing more than a dump. Our dump here in the frigid north has grass…trees…deer and so on. If you think this is ecological you are an idiot. And, the claim it is self sustaining is laughable.
    Did you notice how it sinks when he walks near the edge? When a storm comes at sea, this will be wiped out in no time at all…tho the bottles will still be intact. It only takes a 12″ wave of water to knock a man off of his feet…what happens when you get 6 foot swells?
    Novel maybe, practical, no way.
    And if he did go to sea…currents could put him in the North Atlantic. enough said.
    Those who can find a way to make this sensible voted for obama…Gee, maybe there is some money is the stimulus package for this too!

  5. dude the whole island was washed up on shore pretty much still intact so the bottles didnt go to see. check it out on wikipedia

  6. Thanks for your compliments and criticisms too,,,,Doug are you aware that a trash raft without plants growing on it crossed the atlantic ocean about 8 years ago and that two guys also crossed from california to Hawai on a raft of plastic bottles in nets an they studied the flotsom and jetsom in the pacific gyre? If the Titanic had only had plastic bottles packed in the balast compartements it may very well not have sunk! As I write now there are sadly probably boats sinkingnside and they could have plastic bottles iinside their hulls to make sure they continue to float even if they break in two* The Island which was wiped onto the shore by hurracane emily was not finished or ready for the ocean,,,and now we have a new one in the lagoon at isl mujeres,,,please come and see for your self. The edges are now stronger and as time passes shall get even stronger. I do know that the mangroves after one year maintain themselves by sucking nutrients from the water and therefore cleaning it and shedding leaves to give a layer of compost. Sea life flourishes in the shade and soon the bottle base is covered with seaweed mollusks and even corals* The vegetation also gives out oxygen into a depleting atmosphere and because of their fast growth can be often pruned to provide wood for constuction. These Islands if there were enough could provide licing space for millions of people and animals extending the planets ecology onto lakes rivers and the ocean.

  7. Hi Richart! I think your idea is perfect! i have always dreamed of doing something like this, but always just thought it was a crazy idea. Now i see that you have done it! it is amazing. and you have got SO many wheels turnin in my head now. I am VERY interested in building my own floating island for me and my girl. just wondering about some laws against doing this. . .do you know if you can just build one anywhere? or do you have to have permits? or what>? I have some GREAT ideas on building a self sustaining floating island, and i WILL build one as soon as i can figure out the legalities of building this. is it better to build in mexico than america? or maybe somewhere els? . . .if you could start all over and do it all again. . . .where would you start building at and why? THANK you so much for the inspiration. and keep on keepin on man! hopefully we will meet one day, . .. maybe in the middle of the ocean! lol.
    Andrew

  8. Hi Richart! I think your idea is perfect! i have always dreamed of doing something like this, but always just thought it was a crazy idea. Now i see that you have done it! it is amazing. and you have got SO many wheels turnin in my head now. I am VERY interested in building my own floating island for me and my girl. just wondering about some laws against doing this. . .do you know if you can just build one anywhere? or do you have to have permits? or what>? I have some GREAT ideas on building a self sustaining floating island, and i WILL build one as soon as i can figure out the legalities of building this. is it better to build in mexico than america? or maybe somewhere els? . . .if you could start all over and do it all again. . . .where would you start building at and why? THANK you so much for the inspiration. and keep on keepin on man! hopefully we will meet one day, . .. maybe in the middle of the ocean! lol.
    Andrew

  9. if only the rest of the world would see trash as treasure. i luv what you did. my wife suggested that you use fish nets for some type of under security netting.some teathered pound test line

  10. how dumb can one person be, think about where the bottles came from. humans make garbage all over the world. just about every body uses plastic. where did he get the bottles ….really. there is sooooo muuuch garbage on this planet it just F***Kin sickining. yuuuck ,nasty, gross. thats why its called recycle.

  11. you must be one of those dumb people, where do all the fish, millions of sea birds, and all the other animals shitin the ocean. and when I'm on a 32' cod jigger fishn Alls there is, is a 5 gallon bucket to crap in where does it go the ocean. we are all animals in our own way. GET OVER IT!!! and before u type some crap about people and pets shiting the ocean U should think abot it first. born and raised on an island on boats in Alaska and I hate trash.

  12. if only the rest of the world would see trash as treasure. i luv what you did. my wife suggested that you use fish nets for some type of under security netting.some teathered pound test line

  13. how dumb can one person be, think about where the bottles came from. humans make garbage all over the world. just about every body uses plastic. where did he get the bottles ….really. there is sooooo muuuch garbage on this planet it just F***Kin sickining. yuuuck ,nasty, gross. thats why its called recycle.

  14. you must be one of those dumb people, where do all the fish, millions of sea birds, and all the other animals shitin the ocean. and when I'm on a 32' cod jigger fishn Alls there is, is a 5 gallon bucket to crap in where does it go the ocean. we are all animals in our own way. GET OVER IT!!! and before u type some crap about people and pets shiting the ocean U should think abot it first. born and raised on an island on boats in Alaska and I hate trash.

  15. Absolutely Fabulous!! What a life!
    I do hope you get enough bottles and can set sail round the world, and with your animal family too! What fun!
    Can I be your first B&B guest?

  16. Great idea! Although I also have to ask how environmental it was when 250,000 plastic bottles were washed out to sea after a hurricane destroyed the island?!?

  17. well, ritchie it,s about a year since i ran into you at the hostel I never did make it down to see your island I was into my own craziness I forget the dudes name in the wheelchair was it will? anyway I'm leaving the states once again need to hit the island I know you don't remember me but if there is anything I could bring down from the states let me know Cool runnins Sam

  18. ola Richie
    good seeing you teddie & Tini said to say Hi!
    e-mail me and I'll send you the pictures of our visit
    Regards'
    Ken

  19. I was wondering if you'd be opposed to any help from people who just want to aid your dream. I found out about this after thinking basically the same thing, and you having success is only fueling my desire to head out myself. I'd love to help work on your island as a way to see first hand how it's done and how to build one myself. I don't care for the notoriety, so I'm glad you're doing it first, haha. But I have always thought about what it would be like to live at sea, and your idea is so beautiful, I'm surprised more people aren't following themselves!

  20. Hmm… interesting concept. If this guy is “an environmentalist to the core” he would know that plastic is real bad for aquatic life and motors spew out chemicals.

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