Dubai is often considered a feat of human engineering. Locals and travelers alike have worked together to create one of the most livable cities in a barren land of sand, which some would even call paradise. From simulating artificial rains to making blueprints for an artificial mountain – just how much of this city is real? Its islands and beaches, perhaps?
All of Dubai’s islands are artificial and form part of larger construction projects to create fully fledged archipelagos. Many of these projects have failed or been put on hold, but the Palm Jumeirah has been fully developed. Dubai has both natural and artificial beaches due to its artificial islands.
It is amazing to think that human advancements have brought us so far that we’re able to create our own islands. Although a hefty investment, Dubai’s leadership once thought that these artificial islands and beaches would deliver on their potential. Unfortunately, many were left incomplete. What happened to all of these artificial islands, though?
Are Dubai Islands And Beaches Man-Made?
Yes, since the early 1990s, Dubai has set off on various ambitious construction projects to create manufactured islands that naturally (or rather, unnaturally) have their respective manufactured beaches. These beaches would, of course, need to be considered artificial, too, since they came into existence thanks to the construction of the islands.
Dubai does, however, also have natural beaches. The beaches you find on the mainland are the same beaches that have shaped themselves over millennia. The only thing artificial about them may be the addition of comfortable lounging chairs, umbrellas, boardwalks, and other amenities. Therefore, not all beaches on Dubai’s coast are artificially made. Dubai does not have any natural islands.
Why And How Were Dubai’s Artificial Islands Made?
Dubai experienced a huge economic boom following the discovery of massive oil deposits underground in the 1960s. In the following three decades, the city became the most populous and successful emirates in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Later, the city also distanced itself from only being dependent on physical commodities, and its service industry now accounts for almost 70% of its GDP.
This growth spurred the population to grow even more. Many foreign companies and investors planned to settle in Dubai, and there was an ever-ongoing influx of tourists into this international city. Property developers eventually came to realize that they should be expanding their geographical area to something more exclusive and pioneering (as the city is itself).
What followed were some of the world’s most impressive coastal expansion projects, led under the guidance of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE’s prime minister and mayor of Dubai. These projects aimed to expand the city’s coastline, boost tourism, and provide attractive and exclusive properties for investors to invest money into.
These artificial islands (and consequently, artificial beaches) were created using a method called “land reclamation.” This process involved:
- dredging sand off the Gulf’s seafloor,
- vibro-compacting it to densify the sand granules,
- and then securing the compacted sand in place with reinforcements of tons of large mountain rocks.
Dubai’s Different Man-Made Islands And Beaches
Most people immediately think of the three palm islands when Dubai’s artificial islands are mentioned. However, the first artificial addition to Dubai’s coastline was the small landmass hosting the famed Burj Al Arab. This ambitious construction began in 1993, and after enjoying immense success amongst tourists, the Burj Al Arab paved the road of inspiration for the following artificial islands.
Dubai’s Prized Artificial Island: The Palm Jumeirah
The Palm Jumeirah is arguably the most famous of all Dubai’s artificial islands. The creation of the island started as early as 2001, and the physical foundation was finished by 2004. Buildings were erected from 2006 onward, and the first tenants and residents were allowed to move in by 2007.
This island, or rather, archipelago, is formed in the shape of a palm tree with a large crescent covering its tips. It is so large that satellite imagery can pick it up, and when you see it on Google Maps, you get to put it into perspective and appreciate just how extravagant this project is. This manufactured island added 40 miles of beaches to the Dubai coastline – something the city desperately needed.
The island boasts various attractions, ranging from an aquarium and waterpark to retail facilities, hotels, villas, beachside bars, restaurants, and much more. Furthermore, a monorail runs from mainland Dubai through the spine or “trunk” of the Palm, all the way up to the crescent at its peak.
What About The Other Two Palm Islands In Dubai?
Dubai’s city planners had two more palm-shaped islands on their horizons. These were the Palm Jebel Ali and the Palm Deira – both of which would have contributed to adding more artificial beaches due to their existence.
The development of these two islands, however, was halted midway through. The 2008-09 financial crisis was mostly to blame for the failure of these projects, as financial markets reeled, and investor insecurity caused millions of dollars (or UAE Dirhams) to be withdrawn.
The Palm Jebel Ali had already seen its foundations set in place by the time development was halted, and it boasted much larger dimensions than the Palm Jumeirah. The other planned palm island, the Palm Deira, sadly had a more unfortunate fate.
The Palm Deira, which is now more commonly known as the Deira Islands, was set to be designed in a similar palm-like fashion to the Palm Jumeirah and Palm Jebel Ali and was the most ambitious of the three planned palms. Its development barely kicked off before the financial crisis halted it. Right now, it merely looks like large sandbanks protruding from the ocean.
Are There Any Other Man-Made Islands In Dubai?
Yes! There are entire ranges of islands that have been developed or at least been in the planning stages of development. They include The World Islands (an Earth-shaped archipelago) and The Universe (another archipelago that includes shapes the likes of different planets, stars, moons, and the milky way). Of The World Islands, only a few smaller islands have gone into further development.
Other than the islands already mentioned, there were many other islands on the books for developers. These, however, also seem to have fallen flat. To this day, there is large uncertainty about the future of these artificial islands. It is hard to find new information, and developers aren’t always too keen to share their exact next moves.
Why Was Development Stopped For Dubai’s Artificial Islands?
Although the 2008-09 financial crisis bears most of the responsibility as the initial spanner in the works, many other factors contributed to the stalled development of these islands. Most importantly would be the environmental arguments – after all, dumping endless tons of sand on top of sea life isn’t exactly up to standard with societal expectations these days.
The islands that have not yet been fully developed (i.e., have proper support to keep them solidified) are slowly but surely sinking back to the ocean floor. Furthermore, these effects are exacerbated by rising sea levels, and now even mainland Dubai may be threatened.
Three billion tons of sea sand were dredged from the Persian Gulf, and 17 million tons of mountain rock were laid around the islands to form a seven-mile-long crescent-shaped breakwater. The island has been developed at a considerable environmental cost, and the dredging removed 3 billion tons of sand from the gulf.
The environmental impact has far-reaching implications, many of which we won’t know until they occur. The development of the archipelago:
- drastically rerouted the ocean wave and current patterns.
- changed the water temperature.
- fundamentally altered the erosion patterns in the Persian Gulf.
- killed a whole square mile of coral.
Several man-made items have been sunk to create artificial reefs in the area where the sand was collected to rectify displacement. These include
- A Pakistan International Airlines Airbus A300.
- F100 UW.
- Two decommissioned US Airforce aircraft.
- Fifteen retired armored police vehicles.
NASA has advised that the islands are sinking by 5mm every year.
Does Dubai Have Natural Islands And Beaches?
As we have mentioned, Dubai has natural beaches along its mainland coast. However, Dubai does not have any naturally created islands as some of the other emirates in the UAE have. Abu Dhabi has around 200 natural islands under its jurisdiction, some of which have truly breathtaking sceneries.
Dubai has six man-made islands and beaches, which at the time they were developed became the largest land from sea reclamation projects in the world. These man-made islands are in various stages of completion.
- Palm Jumeirah.
- Burj Al Arab.
- Palm Jebel Ali.
- The World Islands.
- Deira Islands.
- Bluewater’s Island.
Palm Jumeirah is shaped like a 17-frond palm tree and reclaimed over 5 square kilometers of land.
Work began on Palm Jumeirah in 2001 and was completed in 2006 and composed a land area of over 5.6 square kilometers. The development has added 40 miles of beaches to Dubai and has doubled the size of Dubai’s beachfront.
By 2009, there were 28 hotels were opened on the site, and many residential housing estates were occupied.
The Palm Jumeirah island is an incredible tourist attraction that captures the imagination of people worldwide. It is positioned to appeal to the top end of the market and provides an unforgettable experience where tourists can rub shoulders with the rich and famous.
The island, its hotels, and retail areas are aimed at high-net-worth individuals and embody exclusivity and an upmarket lifestyle that attracts well-heeled people.
The Palm Jumeirah’s trunk accommodates apartments, hotels, and retail shops. A six-lane undersea tunnel connects the mainland and the island, and the Middle East’s first monorail runs the island’s length.
Although it was forecast the islands would accommodate 120,000 residents, only half that number have ended up living in the facilities.
Burj Al Arab
Burj Al Arab is the largest structure built on reclaimed land. It operates as the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah hotel and is 1,053 feet tall.
A helicopter landing pad is installed on a ledge at the top of the structure.
The building was built on top of 250 piles and was completed in 1999.
Burj Al Arab now holds the title of being one of the most iconic and recognizable buildings globally.
Palm Jebel Ali
Work started on Palm Jebel Ali in 2002, but construction stopped when the global financial crisis occurred in 2008. 15 years later in May 2023, it was announced that the Palm Jebel Ali project would be revived. Here’s what you need to know:
- There will be seven connected islands in total.
- The developer, Nakheel, would be changing its name.
- The man-made island will be twice the size of Palm Jumeirah, spanning 13.4 sq km.
- It is slated to add 110 km of coastline to Dubai.
- 30 percent of all public facilities will be powered by renewable energy.
It will have:
- 35,000 homes and villas built on stilts.
- 80 hotels and resorts.
- A water park.
- Six marinas.
- A boardwalk shaped into the words of a poem written by the emir, Sheikh Mohammed.
Watch the video down below to learn more about the $4 billion dollar project.
The World Islands
The World Islands project comprises 300 man-made islands and adds more than 230 kilometers of beachfront to Dubai.
The 300 Islands range in size from 1.4 to 4.2 hectares. The project comprises seven islands named after the world continents: Europe, Africa, Asia, North America, South America, Antarctica, and Oceania.
Work has since restarted in limited parts of World Island and includes the development of the $5bn Heart of Europe project.
The Deira Islands
The Deira Islands project (conceptualized above) was started but discontinued in 2008. However, in line with the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan, the Deira Islands will be rebranding as the Dubai Islands along Dubai’s northern coastline.
Although originally designed as a magnified version of Palm Jumeirah, the project was modified and is designed to become a series of smaller artificial islands with 100 restaurants, cafes, and 5,000 shops. The development will include 20 km of pristine (man-made) beaches, parks, and loads of open spaces that aim to promote healthy communities, according to Dubai developer, Nakheel.
While the four Islands were originally projected to accommodate ¼ million people, only the southwestern base portion is being developed.
It is planned to accommodate the world’s largest market in which virtually anything can be purchased, including gold, jewelry, clothing, household appliances, food, and hi-tech appliances.
The Bluewater island is shaped like a comma and is situated on the northern side of Palm Jumeirah.
This project is completed and is home to hotels, residences, restaurants, shopping centers, and several types of entertainment.
The Dubai Eye (Ain Dubai) is built on Bluewater Island and, at 250m high, is the world’s largest Ferris wheel.
Dubai indeed boasts a couple of manufactured archipelagos containing smaller islands and beaches. However, many of these artificial projects have been stalled due to financial and environmental factors. Although Dubai has some natural beaches, the city has no naturally occurring islands, except those appearing much deeper into the Persian Gulf (and aren’t actually in Dubai).