20 August 2019
Surfing and sustainability enthusiast Natalie Fox found the perfect internship opportunity: creating something useful, a surf board, from Styrofoam packaging to reduce waste in the Maldives
The Maldives is a collection of 26 atolls in the Indian Ocean containing sandbanks, coral ridges and desert islands. The nearest land mass is India, 340 km away, and it is the lowest lying country in the world. It is a quintessential tropical surfing destination; offshore reefs, crystal clear waters and a diverse ocean ecosystem home to dolphins, rays, sharks and hundreds of thousands of species of fish.
In 2019 there is no longer a chance to hide the reality of the situation; environmental disasters are impacting natural habitats at an alarming rate; single use plastic, coral bleaching and the rise in sea levels are global threats, which the Maldives are also greatly affected by. Despite the marketing, The Maldives are not all turquoise waters and palm fringed beaches. In order to deal with the influx of plastic, The Maldives dedicated the Island next to the capital, Thilafushi, to trash, which since the 1990s has morphed into an island of toxic landfill piled high with discarded, rotting, burning plastic.
One resolution it seems, is being pioneered at high end resort, Soneva Fushi. Situated in the Baa atoll, it has adopted an exceptional waste management system, where 90% of the island’s waste is recycled or repurposed. Their vision is to reach zero waste within the next 5 years.
Gordon Jackson does a remarkable job running the “Waste to wealth programme” at Eco Centro. From growing mushrooms in plastic bottles, housing a solar farm, composting green waste, bottling its own water, and turning glass into works of art - it is a complex system that aims to roll out its initiatives to other local islands.
My mission as a sustainability student interning at the Global Sustainability Institute is to make a surfboard from recycled styrofoam. The styrofoam food boxes arrive on the island with precious cargo and are then completely discarded due to hygiene. Most are ground down and added to concrete for building, but with a limited amount of construction on the island, they soon pile up. It's the one thing Jackson is struggling to eradicate.
With the resident glass blower, a former surfboard shaper, and one of the childcare assistants an accomplished styrofoam sculptor, luckily I had some help. Having never made a surfboard before, there was a lot of ‘YouTube researching’ involved and gathering of materials in between surfs. The final construction took approximately 3 days.
The hope is to one day to create something the local kids can ride, made from waste and sourced entirely from the atoll. It is a way to keep the cost of a surfboard affordable for locals and enable a connection to the ocean in a deeper way, perhaps helping provide skills that may lead to financial income as a surf guide or instructor.
Until the prototype is launched, Soneva hosts community sessions, enabling the school girls of year 6 & 7 from nearby Island, Eydafushi, to sample surfing and the equipment needed to do it. They are clearly stoked, and leave Soneva with a greater understanding and appreciation of the ocean that surrounds them.