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Palm Islands (Palm Jumeira), United Arab Emirates

A massive artificial island that spans about 25 square km, is the first of many to be built on the Gulf coast of Dubai. Behind all the luxurious hotels and resorts, it has destructive impacts on the environment


The Palm Islands on the coastline of Dubai City are part of a major vision being realized by Nakheel, a large development company owned by the UAE Government.  The three Palm islands are Palm Jumeirah, which was completed in 2006; Palm Jebel Ali, still under construction; and Palm Deira, now in its early stages of development. These three archipelagos, along with other projects along that coastline (such as The World), are artificial reclaimed islands made from displaced sand and stone.  Since all islands will follow the same plans and consistencies as Palm Jumeirah, we will use the case of Palm Jumeirah to illustrate the issues around its construction. The final plans and decisions have been implemented in June 2001, and construction began in August 2001. This large scale process of dredging introduced many challenges and impacts on the ecosystem of the coastline. The sole presence of the island blocks the path of shoreline currents, forcing these currents to shift and curve in unnatural angles. This altered current movement can erode the mainland beaches in an uneven distribution, causing beaches to pile up sand at some points on the West side coasts from the island and lose sand on the East side [1]. In turn, beachfronts may lose enough land for coastal foundations to collapse [10]. This effect may be maintained by dredging sand from compiled spots and filling the washed away spots, but this temporary maintenance of shorelines does not hide the fact that the new Island is accelerating erosion to the mainland coast, a long-term event that is already wearing out the little sand that the beaches have [1]. Furthermore, the large quantities of compiling reclaimed sand caused the sea water to be heavily clouded in silt. In addition to ruining the aesthetic appearance of the coastline, the silt also has the potential to damage the marine ecosystem of certain local species, such as oyster beds being covered over [1] [10]. The high concentration of particles can suffocate most of the local species and prevent sunlight needed by vegetation from reaching the sea floor [1] [4] [8]. On the other hand, developers and engineers predicted and later found out that the foundations of the island actually support the growth of new corals, and other aquatic species are moving in since the rocks provide shelter [1] [3] [4] [7] [9] [10]. Based on that, they plan to recreate artificial coral reefs by sinking multiple vehicles like jets, busses, and so on, creating special scuba diving parks. With this, Nakheel argues that even if the project has changed the environment of the coastal ecosystem, they can make up for it with these very endeavors, claiming it will attract even more species from around the sea. Whether the process as a whole will have a net benefit to biodiversity or not, it is certain that the local species who lived before the construction had their habitats altered. Unfortunately, there is not much information on the long-term effects of all artificial islands around the world. There is no doubt many monitoring techniques that should be implemented on a more regular basis, before and after the construction process. Wave patterns, rate of erosion, and changes in topography can be observed through many video and radio devices, not mentioning our ability to collect water and sediment samples. Strict Environmental Impact Assessments must be conducted. Only a few academic articles, such as Salahuddin’s paper [1] mention the importance of such monitoring. All this considered, there are very few Environmental laws and movements in the UAE [1]. It is clear is that these artificial constructions feed into the hyper-consumerism already heavily promoted by the UAE. As noted by the World Wildlife Fund,  the UAE is "five times more unsustainable than any other country" [9]  These islands are a prime example of these kinds of unsustainable practices.

Basic Data
Name of conflict:Palm Islands (Palm Jumeira), United Arab Emirates
Country:United Arab Emirates
State or province:Dubai
Location of conflict:Dubai
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Tourism facilities (ski resorts, hotels, marinas)
Aquaculture and fisheries
Building materials extraction (quarries, sand, gravel)
Specific commodities:Tourism services
Sand, gravel
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The island’s base and foundation consists of a total 94 million cubic meters of sand and 5.5 million cubic meters of rock, all of which were extracted as natural resources.

See more
Project area:572
Level of Investment for the conflictive project12,000,000,000
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:(n/a)
Start of the conflict:23/08/2005
Company names or state enterprises:Nakheel from United Arab Emirates - Primary role in planning construction
Helman Hurley Charvat Peacock/Architects, Inc. (HHCP) from United States of America - Designing outline and structures of site
Van Oord from Netherlands - Dredging of Sand for island construction
Relevant government actors:Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum - (Former President)
International and Finance InstitutionsIndustrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) from China - Funding the Viceroy Dubai Palm Jumeirah Resort
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Greenpeace
World Wildlife Fund
Emirates Environmental Marine Group
Emirates Diving Association
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLATENT (no visible organising at the moment)
Reaction stageLATENT (no visible resistance)
Groups mobilizing:Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Objections to the EIA
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Soil erosion, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Potential: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Land dispossession, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Other socio-economic impactsIncrease in Mass Consumerism
Project StatusIn operation
Proposal and development of alternatives:All main proposals being suggested by Mongabay and scientists making ground research is to perform more monitoring as well as allow more decisions to be thought out using a valid EIA.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:While the island's construction has displaced/killed most of the local species within a large radius, many are are aware that other species have come to the area due to this construction.
In addition, the successful completion of this first island encouraged the sheikh to create new islands in the same manner.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

1. "The Marine Environmental Impacts of Artificial Island Construction" - by Bayyinah Salahuddin
[click to view]

2. "Impact of remobilized contaminants in Mytilus edulis during dredging operations in a harbour area: Bioaccumulation and biomarker responses" - by Marta Martins et. al.
[click to view]

5. Wikipedia Page on Palm Islands
[click to view]

4. "Dubai’s artificial islands have high environmental cost" - Blog post on Mongabay
[click to view]

7. "How green is The World?

Evaluating Dubai's island-reclamation project" - Post from The Economist
[click to view]


Artificial Islands" - Blog post on That's Life Science
[click to view]

6. "Nakheel: Palm Jumeirah is 'not sinking'" - Arabian Business Post
[click to view]

3. Environmental Impacts of the Palm Islands
[click to view]

9. "The Real Story Behind Dubai's Palm Islands" - Post on Conte Nast Traveler
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

10. Megastructures Documentary on construction of Palm Jumeira
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Marc Daniel, Asfari Institute, [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2865
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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