A green island made of plastic bottles – The story of Richart Sowa

A green island made of plastic bottles – The story of Richart Sowa

We all know that feeling of having an ambitious idea and then not following up on it because you see too many possible problems on the road ahead of you. Lucky enough there are also people who just start working on crazy ideas and make it happen. Richart Sowa (a.k.a. Rishi) is one of these people and he made the impossible happen by building himself several green islands made of old plastic bottles.

The beginning of a beautiful dream

It all started on Richart Sowa’s balcony somewhere in Germany in 1977. Richart (born in 1953) had moved from Middlesbrough to Germany and worked as a carpenter at the time. His real passion was drawing and on that balcony he draw the image you can see below. It represents one of his first ideas of a green island which is floating on plastic bottles.

It all started wiht this drawing (©keepcalmandkirwanon.blogspot.com)

A life crisis with a happy ending

Not long after the joyful period above, Richart Sowa went through a pretty dark era in his life: The relationship with his wife did not work out and his family decided to move back to England. Rishi decided to deal with his sorrow by travelling the world and finding his true self. He joined different religions like the Mormon culture and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, played music on the street, travelled in the USA and ended up in Mexico in the end of 1996. He was highly impressed and inspired by the Aztec farmers who would build floating islands to create arable landmade for themselves. Seeing this reminded him of the idea he had twenty years earlier on a balcony in Germany.

Richi’s first attempt

Richart Sowa decided to build his floating island on a beach called Zipolite located in San Pedro Pochutla. Zipolite is famous for the hammock and hippie colony as well as the liberal use of drugs. It is also still the only nudist beach in the whole country. Richart Sowa started to collect a lot of empty discarded plastic bottles which he put together in several nets. He used these nets with empty bottles to carry a structure of plywood. On top of this he build a small hut made of wood. Although it was just the beginning, he felt like his dream came through because he had build his first green floating island near the coast of Mexico.

Rishi collected as many PET bottles he found (© moment.photoshelter.com)

A blessing in disguise

Unfortunately the residents were not happy about his floating island made of plastic. They called the police and as Richart Sowa had no rights he had to leave the village. Although he was sad about his dream falling apart he followed the orders and left. Interesting enough this ended up saving his life, because three days later hurricane Pauline destroyed the whole village and his island. This must have been destiny.

Green Spiral Island with plenty of Mangroves (© spiegel.de)A floating island made by Richart Sowa (© spiegel.de)

A second try: Spiral Island

It was 1997 when Richart Sowa gave his dream of a green eco-island a second chance. This time in Puerto Aventuras, on the Caribbean coast of Mexico. Once again he collected empty plastic bottles which he put in nets. On top of the nets he constructed a “floor” of bamboo and plywood. By planting mangroves on top of that, the island got even more stable. The roots of the mangroves would find their way into the water and strangle around the nets and plastic bottles. The plants loved the wet and sunny circumstances and the island became greener than Rishi could have ever imagined.

Spiral IslandRichard on the water in front of his floating island (©moment.photoshelter.com)

A luxury home with Solar Oven

This time Rishi was more ambitious than the first try. After he got a permit he created a home with three beaches, a garden with vegetables and flowers and a house with two floors, a roof terrace, a composting toilet and even a solar oven. He also collected rain water for the shower. Richart Sowa is a real environmentalist. That means that he always will try to build the island as sustainable as possible. He never would build something what would further pollute the earth.

Island_1Spiral Island surrounded by a beautiful sky (©500px.com)

Seven years of work destroyed in several minutes

In July 2005, the Spiral island was fully destroyed by hurricane Emily. Richart Sowa could save his dogs and himself but his lifework was vanished. He had been working and living on Spiral Island for 7 years and this was a devastating blow for Rishi. In the end, just before the hurricane, the Spiral Island was made of 250,000 plastic bottles and was 66 by 54 feet large. A impressive achievement!

That’s the end…is it?

Richart Sowa was done and ready to give up when an investor with a green heart offered him the financial help to build one last floating island. His name was Oscar Constandse and he gave Rishi 20.000 Dollar to rebuild his island. Because this story got a lot of publicity more investors were willing to chip in some money and soon the amount was doubled. Richard Sowa decided he could not let down all these friendly people and was willing to give it one last try.

One last one: Joysxee Island

Richart Sowa started to rebuild his floating environment island in the waters of Isla Mujeres, located near Cancun. Joysxee Island contains about 100,000 plastic bottles and measures a size of 82 feet in diameter. Richart Sowa’s newest island also contained three beaches, a beautiful house, even a solar-powered waterfall, a small river, a wave-powered washing machine and solar panels. Volunteers from all over the world came to visit Joysxee and Rishi to help with this unique project.

A touristic attraction

Joysxee Island has been a very popular touristic attraction. People want to see the floating island and the impressive construction in real. It is just fascinating to see what can be done with only natural material. Richart Sowa used to give tours on the island for a small fee. At this moment it is unclear if you can still do a tour on Joysxee Island. Read the next paragraph for more information the status of Richart Sowa.

Richard Sowa’s last island: Joyxsee Island (© Spiegel.de)

What happened to Richart Sowa?

Richart Sowa is one of these impressive people who pursued his dreams and made things happen. He did not see all the troubles which might occur but just started. The result inspires people every day.

As we could read in a personal comment under this article, he is currently back in England because of illness. Bad weather and thieves demotivated him to keep working on the island. Obviously this is very sad for someone who always wanted the best for the environment and the world. Rishi writes in his comment that he will go back to Mexico this year (2019) so let’s hope he can still find the motivation to give the green island one last boost.

Keep us posted Richart!

Spiral IslandRishi playing the guitar with some friends (©moment.photoshelter.com)




Maria is a passionate traveller and it all started 10 years ago in Australia. Since that 1,5 year trip she cannot get enough. Maria tries to be as sustainable as possible and loves to cook.



  • sully sully December 06, at 19:53

    Just curious as to who gave him permission to build his island where he did? Ty

    • Maria Maria December 30, at 14:35

      Hey Sully, no one gave him the permission. He just built the island. But once he had to move his island because people who lived in the surrounding where complaining...but for now it seems okay. Let me know if you hear something else. Thx a lot! Maria

  • Ann Barr Ann Barr December 06, at 20:25

    Hi I am interested in alternative living and travel and wonder how I can experience some time in this home?

    • Maria Maria December 30, at 14:33

      Hey Ann Barr, when you travel to Mexico just visit him. I think he is a guy who is happy about every visitor and person whos interested in his story! Just try out and let me know how it went. Greetings Maria

  • bonnie bonnie August 28, at 14:44

    I wonder how he deals with human waste on his island?

    • Hila Hila May 21, at 02:40

      He composts it into soil (see video) has leaves he covers waste, then when it gets full he can dig it out from the outside to use on his island and garden.

  • Albie Albie September 12, at 08:45

    What effect if any have the recent tropical storms had on his island?

    • Maria Maria November 27, at 08:54

      Hi Albie, sorry for the late reply. As far as we have found, the Island was not hit by the storm. If you read anything else, please let us know. Best wishes!

  • Kulwinder Kulwinder February 23, at 05:35

    What an interesting guy. Of,course, Governments in the west would not allow this to happen. But floating materials is the way forward. Waterworld is happening.

    • Maria Maria February 23, at 10:27

      Hey Kulwinder, Richard is indeed a very interesting guy. Let's hope he functions as an example for many others. Have a nice day!

  • Jim Jim February 27, at 22:24

    We regularly vacation on Isla Mujeres and are familiar with this island. In fact, I have been on the island twice. Last week when we were there I noticed that the island was missing. I asked a local where it was and was told that the island started breaking up in a storm and that Richard abandoned it leaving his neighbors with a tremendous mess to pick up off their shorelines. While I found that island interesting, if what I was told is accurate, I am bothered that the man who boasted of his ecological benefits of his island ended up leaving a humongous mess for others to pick up.

    • Maria Maria February 28, at 13:55

      Hi Jim, thanks for your comment. I have not been able to find any source on the internet who writes anything about it but I totally agree with you that it would be disappointing if it was true. Let's keep monitoring any news about Richard Sowa, who knows what we can find. Have a nice day!

  • Anomymous Anomymous November 07, at 14:16

    Yes he left a mess for neighbours to clean up and took off from Isla Mujeres. It has been almost a year and the mess is still there. Not sure how green this idea actually is when you are leaving the ocean full of more mess. Richard, clean up your mess off Isla Mujeres.

  • Karynlls Karynlls January 04, at 03:27

    Does anybody know how I could reach him if. Was interested in an island? That was a good question about the removal of human waste though. I'm surprised nobody answered it.

    • Maria Maria June 08, at 13:50

      Hey Karynlls, Richard Sowa left a comment under this post. Maybe try that email. Best wishes, Job

  • Isa Isa February 19, at 00:43

    I am happy to see Rishi thriving. Last time I saw him was in Puerto Aventuras. So I know where to find him. Thanks for this wonderful gift.

  • Rishi Rishi March 01, at 17:12

    Hi all its Ricart here, the Island was damaged by bad weather and theives but it is safely tied to a mangrove penninsular and the trees and nature are growing well. The theives left me without the means to repair and continue living on the Island and under these disstressing circumstances I became ill. I am with my family now in England recovering and I do plan to return to Mexico this year and begin the process of repair to the Islands house. Peace love and Joy to all Richart.

    • Maria Maria June 08, at 13:49

      Hello Richard, thanks a lot for your comment. Quite a lot of people have been asking about the status of your island. Can you let us know when you are going back there? Also it would be great to know if the status of the island changes. Best wishes! Maria and Job

  • Albane Albane March 04, at 15:58

    Hi, I'm a french student and i would like to make a project on this island. But I need to know some technologicals problems of his island. thank you

    • Maria Maria June 08, at 13:48

      Hey Albane, What is it exactly you need to know? Good luck with the project!

  • The Real Truth The Real Truth June 11, at 10:03

    You're greatly misinformed if you think this is the truth Maria . I know this family very well and the truth is that Richart himself left his wife and children. NOT the other way around. Please check your facts when making features that have such inaccuracies that far exceed what I've written above.

    • Maria Maria June 11, at 10:20

      Hello, thanks for the comment. We got the information from a German Magazine. But we have rephrased the sentence to be less suggestive about it. Best wishes!

  • Jane Jane August 21, at 21:16

    Hi Maria, I met Richart at Praha today. He and his friend Ray were playing music along the street. I really enjoyed his singing and talked with him for a while. He mentioned he will go back to England tomorrow (August 23th). I dare to say Richart is not only a enviromentalist, but also a great musician!!

    • Maria Maria August 28, at 15:06

      Hey Jane, thanks a lot for the update. Hope Richard arrived in England save and sound. We would've loved to see him play :) Best wishes!

  • Hassan Faris Hassan Faris August 26, at 15:48

    Dear all. I'm a Maldivian from the beautiful country of the Republic of Maldives. In Maldives also plastic has become a major problem. Since 90% of our country is ocean and sea, I'm very inspired by this man Richard Sowa and how he transform plastic waste into island. I would love to welcome this man to Maldives and learn from him how he does this process. Moreover I would like to join him and operate such a project in Maldives, which for sure I can get government and other NGO's support. I am trying to find away to contact this great man. If anyone can give me an email or a phone number where I can reach this man would be highly appreciated.

    • Maria Maria August 28, at 15:05

      Hey Hassan, unfortunately we do not have the contact-details of Richart. We do of course encourage you to try and get something started like he did! Good luck!


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