Man-made island city 'is devastating coral'

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The Independent Online

The world's most ambitious man-made island city is almost complete in the shallow waters of the Persian Gulf, promising luxurious living for 180,000. Developers say that it will be a green environment but the project is devastating the seas off Dubai.

The world's most ambitious man-made island city is almost complete in the shallow waters of the Persian Gulf, promising luxurious living for 180,000. Developers say that it will be a green environment but the project is devastating the seas off Dubai.

The Palm is a giant development shaped like a date palm, and one of its homes is believed to have been bought by David Beckham. It will be surrounded by landscaped gardens; offshore will be a divers' playground of artificial coral reefs.

But with the first stage of the vast $14bn (£7.2bn) project only a year away from completion, construction work has wreaked havoc. Marine life has vanished, currents altered and beaches eroded, and the surrounding seabed for miles around has been turned into a lifeless desert coated with a thick layer of sludge by dredging.

Local divers say a coral reef and oyster beds have been buried under millions of tons of sand and boulders weighing up to six tons each. Turtles and fish are scarce. Divers have given up exploring in the lifeless murk.

One said: "Everything down there is dead now. All the wrecks we used to dive on have nothing left alive on them. There's too much silt in the water for marine life to survive."

Alarmingly, The Palm is only the start; two even bigger Palms are being built, one on the site of a five mile-long coral reef called Jebel Ali which was once a marine reserve. A fourth project now under construction is an archipelago of 33 artificial islands called The World, and when it is finished work will begin on another city for 400,000 people.

The Palm has been a huge success with British property buyers. Beckham's England team-mate Michael Owen is believed to have bought property. The singer Rod Stewart reportedly paid $47m for the island of Britain in The World.

A thousand divers a day are expected to be attracted to a bizarre theme park with sunken ships, aeroplanes and underwater reconstructions of the Pyramids and the Colosseum.

Joe Valencic, underwater consultant to the project, says environmental damage can be redressed by growing coral in "nurseries" and shifting sand to the disappearing beaches.

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