food / travel

Swimming Pools, Supersized: Wave Of Chlorinated Caribbeans Sweeps The World

Thanks to new technology from a Chilean-based company, massive water playgrounds are popping up from Singapore to Santiago. Could it put an end to the eternal poolside v. seaside debate?

Pierre Bratschi

SANTIAGO – "Live next to a Caribbean beach all year round, anywhere in the world...." The Chilean company Crystal Lagoons has succeeded in making this long overused dream cliché into reality by finding a way to treat the water in swimming pools hundreds of meters in size.

The meteoric success of the holiday home complex built in 2007 around the "biggest swimming pool in the world" has prompted unparalleled excitement from property developers across the globe. The success of the complex is due in large part to Crystal Lagoons' place in the Guinness Book of World Records after opening the largest swimming pool in the world in San Alfonso del Mar, a small town along the Pacific coast rather lacking in charm about 100 kilometers from Santiago.

This record provoked an unimaginable media storm: Matias Goldsmith, commercial director at Crystal Lagoons, shows off some of the articles dedicated to the now famous swimming pool which measures 1000 meters by 100 meters. In the last five years, 180 projects have been surveyed or are currently underway in over 45 countries, including Spain, France and Romania, for a total investment of $110 billion.

The pools have a particular appeal back in the company's home country. Few coastlines in the world as frustrating as Chile's: the beaches are magnificent and the sun incredible, but the water is cold – really cold. The Humboldt Current stops the temperature from rising above 17 degrees Celsius (62 F), even at the height of summer.

"When I started about 10 years ago, everything was going badly," remembers Fernando Fischmann, creator of Crystal Lagoons. "The water in the pool would turn green and give off a nauseating smell. Complaints from owners accumulated and one by one, employees, colleagues and friends abandoned me."

A billion-dollar chemical conundrum

The Chilean entrepreneur was on his own and trying to solve a problem that experts all over the world believed was impossible: how to maintain a swimming pool three meters deep and with 10 hectares of surface area without having to use several lorries-worth of chlorine every day and without having to build a huge filtering system that uses a tremendous amount of energy. It took the Chilean biochemist five years to solve the conundrum, but finally the biggest pool in the world now had crystal-clear water.

Two years after that, in 2009, Chile named Fischmann ‘Entrepreneur of the Year'as his company experienced exponential growth with new offices in Dubai, the United States and Singapore, and the European branch to follow shortly. The success was such that he quickly patented his technology in 160 countries, and "rightly so" according to Bloomberg; the finance agency believes that by 2030 over 14,000 giant swimming pools could be built.

But what is so special about these swimming pools – so special that it has prompted this worldwide desire for beaches and coconut trees at home? "Our lagoons differ from normal swimming pools because of the water treatment system," explains Goldsmith. Sensors which measure the bacteria levels and the pH of the water are placed every 10 square meters throughout the swimming pool. In San Alfonso del Mar, for example, there are no less than 12,000 sensors placed around the circumference and on the base of the lagoon. These sensors control small nozzles that spray micro-injections of chlorine which disinfect the water, while the green, smelly algae is destroyed by an ultrasound system.

Result: The San Alfonso lagoon uses the same amount of chemical products and energy as a typical Olympic-sized swimming pool. In 2010, Crystal Lagoons was also awarded the UNESCO prize for Green Technology on the basis of the ecologically friendly and sustainable nature of the process.

"The water quality doesn't matter much," says Goldsmith happily, "it can be sea water, freshwater or brackish groundwater from the desert as is the case in Egypt, for example." Egypt is the location for the company's craziest project yet: 30,000 apartments and one 100-hectare swimming pool in the middle of the desert.

Back here in San Alfonso del Mar in the height of the high summer season, the lagoon is filled with happy bathers. The water is clear and calm, and 26 degrees Celsius. The beaches are shaded by real palm trees. The sand is white and doesn't stick to your skin. Nearby is another beach, where the water is rough and freezing, the sand yellow and sticky, and the people are more scarce than ever.

Read more from Le Temps in French

Photo - Crystal Lagoons

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