The Price of Paradise: Infinity Pools and the Environment

Infinity Pools 1Photo: seanmcgrath Alila Pool, Bali

We create parks in cities, plant flowers along highways and build skylights in our homes so that we never have to be too far away from nature while living an urban existence. We enjoy these reminders of the environment so much that we often believe they are real. Sometimes we simply prefer our man-made replications of nature to nature herself. We’ve used technology to enhance nature and pick from her only those parts most aesthetically pleasing and adaptable to human society. While passion for images of nature is important to inspire love for actual nature, it can also cause us to ignore the occasions when our artificial nature harms the natural world.
Infinity Pools 2Photo: rezlab Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur, California

Infinity Pools 3Photo: bingbing Infinity Pool at Shangri-La Mactan

Infinity pools fill a very specific niche in the realm of aquatic play. Also known as edge pools, infinity pools are man-made recreational water ditches that aim to create the illusion that the water is fading into the horizon. If next to an ocean, the infinity pool can make the swimmer feel as if he’s swimming in deep waves, while in reality, he is safe in chlorinated waters. When placed on the edge of a cliff, the infinity pool can exhilarate the swimmer by making him feel like he is bathing at the end of the world.
Infinity Pools 4Photo: erikogan Infinity Pool, St. Maarten

Though the origin of infinity pools is unclear, many hypothesize that they were inspired by the sawahs of Bali. The sawahs, or terraced rice paddies, sometimes fill with water and from certain angles give the impression of a never-ending puddle. However, while the sawahs are caused by nature, the infinity pools, despite the illusion they create, clash with nature.
Infinity Pools 5Photo: thelastminute Infinity Pool, Tahiti

Maintaining any swimming pool poses problems to a green lifestyle. Pools require the expenditure of tens of thousands of gallons of water just to fill once. The standard-sized pool takes 25,000 gallons – that’s the amount of drinking water two humans consume in a lifetime. Additionally, one in five pools has a leak, the smallest of which causes the loss of at least 700 gallons of water a day. Chlorinated pools particularly, when leaked or drained, have the potential to cause a significant threat to the environment and public health. The chemicals can infect the drinking water supply or other waterways after the pool water seeps into the ground.
Infinity Pools 6Photo: Emmanings Hotel Punta Islita, Costa Rica

Infinity Pool 7Photo: Remeez Sadikot The Fortress, Galle, Sri Lanka

The single most environmentally friendly move a pool owner can make is to cover his swimming arena with a tarp, which reduces water evaporation by 95%. Evaporation of water necessitates the pool owner to refill the pool with thousands of gallons of replacement water. Due to their design, infinity pools cannot use a tarp. The standard infinity pool, therefore, would loose 15,000 gallons of water annually just from surface evaporation. Furthermore, while infinity pools must waste energy on heating, pool covers enable heating via solar energy. Solar heat can be trapped by a bubble cover.
Infinity Pools 8Photo: seanmcgrath Alila Pool, Bali

Water intentionally spills from the infinity pool because the edge is designed to measure a few inches shorter than that of a typical pool – fundamental to the water-extending-to-the-horizon illusion. The water drapes over this edge, falling into the ocean, or into a weir. More energy is then used because an additional circulation system must be employed to pump the water in the weir back into the pool.
Infinity Pools 9Photo: Jayen466 Costa Meloneras, Gran Canaria, Spain

Infinity pools, if not designed or used properly can lead to catastrophic landslides or hill erosion. Each body in the pool displaces water, which is caught by the weir. However, if too many people enter the pool, or if the weir is not large enough to capture all the displaced water, the water will spill over the edge. Since so many infinity pools, in order to enhance the aesthetics, are built on a hill or at the edge of a cliff, the water cascades onto the land. This land cannot tolerate the excessive and unnatural water, leading to the weakening of the hill surfaces.
Infinity Pools 10Photo: thelastminute Infinity Pool, Tahiti

Despite environmental hazards, infinity pools are still a common choice for resort-goers. While wading in the gently heated waters, peering at the touchable horizon at sunset, it’s hard for a swimmer to imagine this luxurious encounter with nature is not at all green. Infinity pools remind us of a disappointing fact: capturing the beauty of nature is often antithetical to her preservation.
Infinity Pools 11Photo: Maricel Cruz Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Sources: 1, 2