Dubai Spent $12 Billion to Build 300 Artificial Islands for Millionaires. Now, They’re Abandoned and Sinking

  • The project was launched with an initial investment of $12 billion and with 60% of the islands sold.

  • To date, there are only four finished islands, and they’re sinking 5 mm every year due to their abandonment.

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“The Line,” Saudi Arabia’s futuristic city, started out as an ambitious project aimed at surprising the world. However, similar projects have often failed to materialize, so the real surprise would be if this one actually succeeds. Despite significant budget cuts, the project is still moving forward.

It’s worth examining online archives to see how other billion-dollar projects of this nature have turned out. As it turns out, we don’t have to look very far to find examples.

An isolated world. In 2003, Dubai introduced a project called “The World,” which consisted of 300 artificial islands off its coast. The islands were designed to mimic the map of the world and were available for purchase by millionaires who could then build mansions on them, if they so pleased.

The idea was quite extravagant and catered to a certain megalomaniac impulse, as millionaires could construct their mansions on islands such as Spain, Greenland, or the United Kingdom and be the sole inhabitants of that “country.”

A groundbreaking idea that became a reality. The project was launched with an initial investment of $12 billion, and more than half of the islands were sold. It consisted of small islands with sizes ranging from 1.4 to 4.2 hectares, as well as 321 million cubic meters of sand and 386 million tons of stone in construction, and covering an area of approximately 22 square miles. The island complex is protected by a huge breakwater to prevent erosion by waves.

A future beyond oil. Dubai’s goal in advancing this project reflects the United Arab Emirates' ambition to move away from fossil fuels and ensure long-term sustainability as demand for oil and gas declines. “The United Arab Emirates’ vision was to find alternatives to its reliance on oil as its primary resource, and the choice was the real estate business,” professor Alastair Bonnett, a geographer at Newcastle University, told BBC Mundo.

A project in a dry dock. The onset of the great real estate crisis of 2008 meant that, despite 60% of the complex being sold, the project has been at a standstill for years with no sign of anyone moving in to inhabit it. There are only four developed islands, one of which is the pilot project house donated to footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. Former racing driver Michael Schumacher also received a fully equipped house on one of the islands in an attempt to lure him to the country.

The other side of the coin: Palm Jumeirah. Very close to the complex of uninhabited artificial islands is another project based on artificial islands called “Palm Jumeirah.” This project consists of a huge sand palm tree that extends into the sea. Palm Jumeirah was designed as a leisure area, featuring marinas, holiday resorts, 4,000 homes, large hotels, and shopping centers.

Beyond the difference in commercial operation, one key to the success of the Palm Jumeirah project is the bridge connecting the palm tree to the mainland, allowing easy access for guests to move around the complex.

In contrast, travel between the islands of “The World” and the mainland (or any other island) requires sea transportation, which greatly limits mobility. Learning from this, the new Jumeirah Bay island is connected to the mainland by a bridge, demonstrating a lesson learned by UAE officials.

Dubai 1 Palm Jumeirah island is a commercial success that remains connected to the mainland by a bridge.

Climate change is threatening this business. The current issue with the complex is that its lack of use is speeding up the erosion of the channels surrounding the islands and the silhouettes of the islands themselves, turning them into deserted sandbanks.

Climate change and rising sea levels also threaten this type of construction and increase the risk of its disappearance. According to Greenpeace data, the islands of “The World” are sinking at a rate of 5 mm per year.

Image | Google Earth

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