It’s a weird sensation, to be in a house that’s also a boat that’s also an island. Where, stepping through the rooms with sand underfoot, the building sways side to side with an uneven rhythm whenever a boat passes by. I’ve been staying on Richart Sowa’s floating island for almost a week and I still don’t cease to be amazed at the surreal invention that for the foreseeable weeks I shall call my home.
Situated in the lagoon on Isla Mujeres, Mexico, Joysxee resembles a unique cross between Hobbiton and an oversized children’s play house. With its patchwork-quilt roof and walls, adorned with shells, paintings and fairy lights, the house represents a distinctive take on the definition of an eco-house. It has a functioning kitchen, eco-compost toilet, bathrooms (rain is stored to provide running water), internet, electricity (from mains on the shore, as well as solar panels), and a degree of comfort not usually synonymous with outdoor living. Being on the island is an incredible and novel experience, not only because the words ‘cosmic vibe’ are uttered with marvelous regularity, but because beneath its colourful exterior, the project potentially provides a solution to the drain on resources and problems created by deforestation, overpopulation and climate change.
For those of you that have never heard of the project, Sowa was the first to engineer an entire island supported by waste plastic bottles on which he has built a garden and house complete with an outdoor bath on the balcony, a turret, massage table, and stargazing bed. Sowa has been hailed as an ecological visionary whose efforts and ideas have come to fruition, and are gradually being shared with the world in forthcoming documentaries. After spending years as a carpenter, and later as a street artist and musician travelling around Europe, Sowa’s endeavour to create this floating island is borne mainly from his determination, and indeed he lived in a tent for two years while constructing his second attempt . His eccentric character has captured the imagination of the media, with his ‘love and peace’ philosophy juxtaposed to his survivalist rhetoric and Biblical messages. The idea of the floating island came to him in a vision, he says, after reading Bible prophecies of tectonic plate meltdown and praying for solutions to the ecological problems of the world, and even for ways to survive whatever could happen to the planet. After sighting a spacecraft, Sowa began to interpret the angels in the Bible as benevolent aliens who would help those making wanting to help themselves and the planet. Considering his project a contemporary Noah’s ark, Sowa tells me at length how wildlife and people could be saved by the invention of these floating islands, among other theories. Although the story behind the conception of the project may arouse varied reactions, the reality is that the floating islands could be an inexpensive yet brilliant solution to many of the problems posed by environmental degradation.
Sowa advocates the construction of more floating islands: by creating more land, he says, we could help poor communities across the globe. As the islands float, they are essentially flood-proof and could be endlessly useful in areas traumatised by monsoon season. Furthermore, this new land gives space for plants as well as people. For example, they would provide space for rice fields where they would be protected from the yearly torrential rainfall. On Joysxee, the small island is abundant with wildlife, with fruit trees growing among the mangroves, giving life to the lizards, insects, and of course humans on the land. On a large scale, entire orchards or farms could provide sustenance to communities – and neutralise CO2 levels. “Schools or hospitals could even be built,” Sowa says, and indeed the idea presents many possibilities. The neatest thing about the concept is that the main materials to create this land are, well, waste. Joysxee is supported by around 160, 000 empty plastic bottles – what better use for this rubbish? Any waste created by Sowa’s life on the island is either organic, and used to feed the plants by fertilising the land, or waste that can be used to keep the whole place afloat; he even uses plastic rubbish to insulate the house and under the soil to keep plants away from the saltwater. Generally, though, the roots filter the water and the tree roots grow into the nets of plastic bottles under the island, keeping the bottles in place and in darkness, preserved away from UV rays. And, being in the waters of the Caribbean, corals grow quickly on the plastic bottles and could theoretically replace the coral reefs that are being destroyed around the world.
The project has been supported by donations, and 70 peso (less than £3) tours of the island. More recently, it has been garnering increasing international interest through the medium of television; the island is featured in a documentary due to be released soon on Channel 4, among other programmes. The island is still a work in progress, and with Sowa’s plans to expand it, help is welcome. I’m happy to give him a hand, and learn valuable lessons: that hard work pays off, and that living in an environmentally-friendly lifestyle isn’t just a pipe dream. It may however be a reality that occasionally features the presence of alien-angels, or as Sowa endearingly put it, “angeliens.”