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

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. 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?!?

  2. Yeah, it’s environmentally sound until you consider that the sand was stolen from the beach and that after being destroyed by a hurricane all those bottles, instead of being recycled, ended up disbursing into the ocean. Also the plants on the island are not nearly enough to make it self sustainable.

  3. He created the island as part of his dream; he may have not had enough money to buy his own land -let alone island paradise- and he made it his own. However, I don’t think it’s as ecological as it seems, he may have ‘created’ land, but that’s only one person. For it to be a solution to the earth’s eco-problems, everyone would have to do the same, but most people, selfish as they be, are the vast majority, don’t want to give up their luxuries.
    Not that this is relevant, I’m fifteen. I can’t find many people that express themselves properly on the Internet nowadays. It’s a shame.

  4. I liked the part where they said he was taking sand from the beach. Very sound environmental practice indeed. At least he didn’t dredge it up like the islands of Dubai.

  5. didn’t watch the video but from what i see its very innovative. definitely an environmentalist and an engineer. this is a great way to look outside the box and find immediate solutions to current problems the world is facing. just think how much further one could take this idea…

  6. Hhmmm

    Well in 2005 the bottles ended up everywhere and no- he does not sustain himself on the island. Ripleys put a very positive spin – on a seemingly very good idea that has a whole other side to it.

  7. Neat idea .. actually kinda novel in as much as it is not sustainable over the long term … too many contingent areas of vulnerability such as: the navigating of oceans with salt water and their effects on the plants ( other than Mangroves ) he has planted and/or corrosive factors; the nets containing thousands of plastic bottles can be compromised ( broken corroded or nawed upon to the point of sinking the entire island; fresh water requirements may not be adequate to sustain himself and plants; the eventual deterioration of the plastic bottles when crustaceans such as barnacles and the like begin to take their toll; lack of emergency medical treatment if too far at sea etc, etc.

    It seems an ok concept if he remains close to shores and out of salt water but sailing around th world ? I don’t think so … but he is to be congratulated and admired for his efforts 🙂

  8. After watching the U Tube video a second time hearing of the Mexican government claiming it and wanting to use it as a tourist attraction ( any opportunity to capitalize and make a buck ) well, there goes the peaceful tranquility of your “private, island sanctuary … and lastly, what of the sanitation factor … disposing or recycling all that human and animal waste so as not to contaminate the waters it floats in ? Logistics, logistics, logistics.

  9. I doubt if this guy will make it very far out to sea. It’s obvious his engineering skills won’t hold up to what Mother Nature on the high seas will dish out to him. But hey, somebody has to feed the fishies!

  10. I doubt if this guy will make it very far out to sea. It’s obvious his engineering skills won’t hold up to what Mother Nature on the high seas will dish out to him. But hey, somebody has to feed the fishies!

  11. Interesting idea. Until you get to the part where he wants to float out and tour the world. I wonder how many invasive species he’ll transplant and cause ecological issues with?

  12. To the critics i ask: since when is moving land from one point to another some enviromental risk?

    And considering that the bottles would probably have ended up there anyway, at least he’s trying to make something constructive from the trash we’ve added to the planet. Whens the last time you did something constructive with your McDonalds wrappers? But thats cool, sit back, surf the web, watch TV, eat your McDonalds and criticize… when the food runs out someone has to die and frankly i’d feel better if it were you and not me.

  13. What is all this talk about him not being an environmentalist because he took sand off a beach? Do you guys have any idea how much of the world is sand? You may as well be bothered that he had a few bottles of water to drink and that the water came from a river.

  14. there is actually a long back story they are not mentioning, he was robbed several times from mexican nationals and was considered a thief due to the worth of the recyclables he was collecting. He wouldn’t last a month in open sea with that thing without a weather monitoring system

  15. Why do people leave such ignorant comments on articles like this? I think everybody has something to say, and nobody will listen to you. Get off your video games and myspace and read a book. FOX News obviously won’t educate you with their FAUX stories.

  16. What kind of critters got caught in the nets? Dolphins? hmm..
    I admire his efforts to set a good example. At least he’s trying, which is more than I can say for most of our population.
    If we all try to inspire others to take better care of the planet (that we could not exist without) we might be able to turn things around in time to save it. But people are so willing to criticize and poke fun at others’ valiant efforts that I am afraid that it’s going to be too late, that we won’t realize what we are doing until our earth is totally polluted and we have to try to find a new place to live. Who do you think they are going to pick to take with them? What do you have to offer if such a terrible (and unthinkable) thing came to be? Would they take YOU?
    At least make an effort and spread the word. Support organic farmers, buy ecofriendly products, use renewable energy sources, don’t litter, protest the use of styrofoam, cut down on plastic, and THINK what we can accomplish.

  17. Kon Tiki made it across the Pacific (well sort of). It was made of balsa, a lot less durable than PET bottles. Then again, Kon Tiki was not saddled with 60 tons of sand either.

    Sailboats seem to have dealt with most of the problems he will face, so it is theoretically possible.

    It does sound like he will have a lot of maintenance to do on the island. I guess it doesn’t matter as he’ll have lot’s of free time in the middle of the Atlantic.

    Hopefully he’ll have all emergency devices (EPIRB, lifeboat, lifevest, etc).

    Should be interesting if it happens.


  18. Wow ! Just how many of you eco people are using sea shells instead of tolet paper? LOL!
    This guy had a dream and he made it come true. How many of you have made your dreams come true no matter how stupid others think it is. Lets build an ARK next! but this time don’t use wood!

  19. Heaven Hi to you all*

    It,s Rishi here or Rieshie, actually on my passport Richart Sowa (I like to play with names),
    Most of what is said above is true. I like it, but the part about the disaster and the island littering the area I thought was rather unclear. So I would like to add that it was hurracane Emily which destroyed Spiral Island and that the debri was localized within a few hundred feet on a beach where construction of condos was about to begin. In fact that was the very reason why Spiral Island was moored in such a vunerable position at the end of a rock pier and only one week away from sailing to a more natural location and It took only one week to clean it up with the help of Puerto aventuras,s clean up team. I was tying to get it back in the water, the mangroves were sprouting again after only a few days.
    Yes there are many natural Island so why build an artificial one?
    Have you ever thought that if the oceans do rise how much land we will lose?
    Have you ever thought about how we will sustain ourselves as a human species as the population increases and recources are used up?
    And think how exiting and how much fun it would be to travel around the globe on an Island, even go to wher the flotsom and jettsom trash is gathering and use that to enlarge and as it grows it becomes stronger with the outer salt resistent plants protecting the inner more vunerable ones and Islands like that could even provide a way to survive like arks through times of global trouble!

    The net fruit sacks and nets which hold the bottles beacame interwoven with salt resistent mangrove roots, they had grown to over 7 meters tall in only 5 years, which is higher than the mangroves on shore where they were taken from. I transplanted the young mangroves in the dry season when most young mangroves wither from lack of water.There was always water for the roots on the Island as it rose and dropped with the changing levels, so they grew much faster and stronger on the Island. The mangrove roots actualy provided a very good organic buffer stopping bottles rubbing together and wearing thin with the movement of the waves. This and the fact that they were in the cool water away from destructive solar rays ensured their long life. In fact after 6 years some of the first bottles to be put in the Island were checked and found to be fine. Sea weed quickly grows on the nets and bags making sure that fish do not get trapped by filling in the gaps and adding a slippy covering, then shell fish and corals start to grow in turn providing a habitat for many other types of marine life.
    My dry compost tiolet was built on a platform over a waterproof tarp above the mangrove roots. There was no leakage into the ocean and with a light covering of leaves also no unpleasant odor, this made usable compost for plants such as bananas, melons, tomatoes etc.
    The sand I took from the beach actually helped the passage of boats into the marina because the prevaling winds almost constantly blew sand into the marina,s entrance. I would take some from the edge where there was too much. Yes sand can be washed off easily and with the new Island the beaches will hinge back and fit together like a puzzle for travelling in open waters.
    The new spiral Island Jouxsqey will be opening in August 2008,,,please come and explore this amazing possibility of making selfsustainable land on the ocean, from TRASH to TREASURE* ISLAND!

    If there are any other questions please post them to the website

    Love peace and Joyfulfun,,,Richart Sowa

  20. Whether Richie Sowa succeeds in making a long sea-going voyage or not, in my eyes this man has succeeded in doing something not that many people have dreamed of, but something that virtually no one dreamed of. Hats off to you, Sowa!

  21. some one said something abouthim trasfering invasive species, I belive ther is really no so thing. It’s just evolution in progress, how do you think species get where they are to begin with?

  22. I am writing from India.Saw this man’s island on Ripley’s Believe-it-or-Not two days ago.I was spellbound after seeing his island.I wonder how he thought about this.This is innovation.He has done something that no one of us might have even thought about.I think he is an inspiration to the humanity and is truely on a next level of human thoughtfullness. I am completely taken over by him and would like to meet him and congratulate him on his success.
    Richart has shown that a human heart can make you attain anything that you dream.What’s required is the belief in oneself.He is ‘The Environmentalist’ in the true sense of the word.I remember lot of faces who have touched humanity from all across the world.Some of them are leaders, some artists and some are very common people.Now I would remember one more:Richart Sowa.I support you Richart and wish you all the very best.May lord always be with you. ~Pranav from India

  23. Mr. Sowa is a true frontier blazer in an age when we need to look further down the road for new and inovative solutions to ecological issues. Maybe as he moves forward in his endevour he will inspire even more people to think outside the box, or at the risk of sounding cliche, “Realize that there is no box”! I find that Mr Zowa’s accomplishmet has seemingly opened somewhat of a pro and con discussion. Also some questions regarding his procurment of something as abundant as sand. You have got to be kidding! I think that there is a part in most of us that would love to see him succeed and that we should embrace his attempt to look past what we see as normal and forge new ideas. Richart, you are a true inspiration to me and I wish you the best of luck.

  24. wow unbelievable what a nice one were did u get the 250,000 bottles and use a miniral woters in the world wowwwww

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