Today we’ll examine the fantastic and intriguing story behind Dubai’s Man-Made Islands and the colossal failure of this mega-million project.
The desert Emirate of Dubai famous for turning sand into gold, hoped to capitalize on an impossible investment dream to create a collection of 300 private islands shaped to resemble the continents. The World as it was called, was so immense in size, you could spot it from space.
The master plan for the fantasy land of entertainment-packed tourist resorts and housing complexes was underway, and by 2008, over 60 percent of The Islands had been sold.
Yet, what remains today is a set of oversized, eroding sand piles with one dot out of 300 developed into a country as originally planned. Can you guess which country was number one in line for that Dubai offshore island makeover?
Continue reading to see where it all went wrong, and why the boom town still remains a ghost town!
To appreciate how majestically mind-boggling The World was to be, let’s first dig into Dubai’s history
From a sleepy Arabian Gulf port, it emerged, practically overnight, as the epicenter of the business world in the Middle East.
The city-state, one of seven sheikhdoms of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates blossomed by enticing visitors from near and far with iconic, attention-seeking attractions like Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building; and Ski Dubai, the indoor resort located at one of the largest shopping malls in existence.
Lavish was the name of the game and blowing twenty million dollars for the grand opening fireworks ceremony at the five-star Atlantis Dubai Resort seemed the norm. But this was not enough.
And so, the birth of the ambitious multibillion-dollar construction project was unveiled by Nakheel Properties in 2003. The government owned real estate company planned to create a man-made archipelago from dredging sand from Dubai’s shallow coastal waters, to re-invent an artificial version of the existing world. This second world set of series of Islands could only be reached by boat or seaplane. What could go wrong?
The vision to radically revamp the region surfaced at a time when demand for ocean properties was soaring. The level of confidence and support backing the venture was astonishing. It was viewed as a new income source from a land having gained its greatest wealth from oil production.
Wait until you see what was planned!
Prior to The Islands, the initial phase to build and beautify three palm-shaped islands: Jebel Ali, Jumeriah and Deira, was already in progress.
Unbelievably, a second phase was also in the works. It was called The Universe, and featured additional man-made masses portraying the sun, moon, planets and Milky Way Galaxy.
It was forecasted trump Miami Beach, Florida in size, and came with its own airport. The ultimate trophy project was so grandiose, it was hailed as the eighth wonder of the world.
Things were progressing as planned. Marketing materials asserted, “The World puts the map on Dubai”, and investors sought out and targeted wealthy business tycoons and royals in the region with tempting invitations to “Own the World”.
The exclusive playground provided helicopter and yacht tours of the site, touting islands from $15 to $50 million dollars, which varied in size from 6 to 20 acres.
And for the most part, it worked. Let’s look at the stand-out celebrities who bought a chunk of the opulent offshore utopia.
Finally, the world’s elite had something absolutely over-the-top to shop for. What is better than buying a new country on a new island and designing it as you so desire?
Style icon Karl Lagerfeld was to have his very own fashion island called Isla Moda, where he was to design limited edition Chanel homes.
Lindsay Lohan, the former Disney star and distraught actress jumped at the chance to let go of her millions to claim Lohan Island, and investment magnate Richard Branson bartered for bragging rights to a sunny new mini version of Britain.
Somalia was snagged by a holding company ready to construct a seahorse villa structure where residents could hit golf balls off their balconies, and the deeppocketed new owner of China was replicating the Shanghai skyline on his mound of terrain.
Formula One driver Michael Schumacher was even gifted an island from Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed with hopes to drum up exposure among his high-society circle of pals.
Miraculously after five years of excavating, 25 million tons of rock and 320 million cubic meters of sand were finally in place, during the same time frame as the privileged exerted their purchasing power scooping up the building-less bumps in the water.
And then one September day in 2008, it happened. The paralyzing financial crash struck, and billions of dollars vanished like black magic.
The price of land fell. Construction sites were forced to shut down. Projects came to standstill, or in the case with Dubai, a “sand-still”.
The decline in demand forced Nakheel Properties to offer refunds, and soon the empty sand banks were forgotten, sinking not only to the back of peoples’ minds, but some islands were literally starting to go under.
The dream was disintegrating, much the same as the sand. While a majority of The Islands sold before the crash, the reality was investors were struggling too. The aftermath of the financial crumble led to lawsuits, bankruptcies, jail-time, criminal mafiastyle misbehavior, and sadly enough, even suicides.
Was is the end of The World? Was the global economic crash to blame for the colossal failure or was there more?
First off, the previous euphoric empire no longer fit in sync or shared any similarities with the current times. The stock market crisis led to a deep-rooted collapse in confidence. There was zero hope or guarantee that this type of investment would provide any positive gains or profitable returns.
Nevertheless, at this point, not all was lost. Remember, one island did see some action and evolved into a country. The winner was Lebanon. And if you plan to visit, be prepared to spend a hot dry day baking at a beach club, with your fingers crossed your shabby sun lounger doesn’t collapse.
While there, you will you gaze at the bemused handful of visitors all wondering the same thing as you. Just what am I doing at a dilapidated beach club in Lebanon?
Unimpressed with the over-hyped Royal Island Beach Club, as it’s named, what makes matters worse is the murky stagnant Arabian Gulf water, which is less than inviting for any guests wanting to take a dip off the coast of Lebanon.
But there is more to the failed Dubai World story than just the black hole of money swept away in the financial tsunami. Her name is Mother Nature.
Due to weak regulatory oversight and inadequate monitoring of the region’s ecosystem, the predicted longevity reports were completely valid when indicating severe logistical and environmental problems would arise.
To start, The Islands’ oceanscape of lumps and bumps began to diminish, and between 4 and 16 inches of sand was receding into the Persian Gulf on a yearly basis.
There was also growing concern pertaining to the smaller channels between The Islands and how they were starting to sand up, not to mention rising sea levels and land reclamation issues.
Palm Jumeriah residents complained their water quality was stagnant. This was caused due to the construction of the seven-mile, crescent-shaped breakwater required to protect the Palm from erosion, and also from the seasonal shamal sandstorms blowing across the Gulf during daylight hours from Iraq.
In the end, the breakwater prohibited the natural tidal flows and movements within the man-made development, consequently leading to the unsanitary water inside and around Palm Jumeriah.
Besides the issues the residents had, wildlife in the area has also been significantly impacted.
Environmental agencies declared that the United Arab Emirate’s ecological footprint was the highest in the world. One example being the water around certain parts of The Islands remains stationary for weeks on end and increases the risk of algal blooms.
It has also been noted, the fish that have colonized the new environment are not the same species from previous times.
That is not the only bad news. The offshore surroundings of The Palms and The World are not the only areas to suffer.
Problems have spread to the mainland of Dubai. Stacking up hundreds of thousands of tons of sand on the once flat seabed produces devastating long-term effects on the marine ecology. The final end result is the negative destabilization of soil and water and an eroding natural coastline.
Another concern that continues to intensify stems from the consequences of dredging the sand into island formations. Even though it was known at the time, in today’s world it is highly impractical to market any and all forms of environmentally harmful real estate ventures.
Over the last few years, due to the continuing push towards sustainability and eco-friendly projects, any prospects that don’t support the green movement will automatically not succeed.
With all the economical and ecological doom and gloom, what does the future hold for The World?
By 2013, it appeared all was lost. The Dubai Waterfront was discontinued. The third palm tree, Palm Deira, even lost the “Palm” part of its name when re-branded to Deira Island.
And, The Islands that dotted the Gulf looked like mongoloid-sized mogul bumps on a black diamond ski trail. Basically, status quo since the start.
Then came a big announcement and a glimmer of hope in 2014. Could the story have a happy ending thanks to real estate developer Josef Kleindienst? The strong-accented Austrian rekindled his Heart of Europe initiative.
The six-island enclave to create a miniEurope full of luxury resorts and extravagant restaurants surrounded by floating residences was back on track.
Blueprints showed details for artificial snow to fall from laser cannons onto the castle and chalet rooftops in Switzerland; gondolas along the Venice canals; and a Spanish white-isle Ibiza party hotel for the music lovers.
Slated for launch at the Dubai Expo 2020, Kleindienst luckily bought himself another year to finalize his European fantasy facade. Due to the Coronavirus, the global mega event has been postponed and will open in October of 2021.
Everything is a risk and only time will tell in which direction the future mindset of Dubai will shift. Every indication points to a further slowdown, but never rule out round two to revive The World. Everyone can dream!
What was to become a wonder became a whim. Will The World make a return? Be sure to leave a comment and tell us which island and country would get your vote.
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