Continents and islands

The Artificial Islands of Dubai

The Artificial Islands of Dubai

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world islands

The World Islands, is an artificial archipelago of small islands constructed in the shape of a world map, located in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The World islands are composed mainly of sand dredged from Dubai’s shallow coastal waters, and are one of several artificial island developments in Dubai. The World’s developer is Nakheel Properties, and the project was originally conceived by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. The construction was done by two Dutch (joint venture) specialist companies, “Van Oord” and “Boskalis”. The same companies also created the Palm Jumeirah.

DUBAI IS FAMOUS FOR ITS luxurious Palm Islands, the easily recognizable manmade archipelago off of the city’s coast. Based on the Palm’s success, Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Maktoum, envisioned an even bolder archipelago project in 2003: a group of islands shaped like a map of the world. Unlike the Palm Islands.

Construction of the World Islands began in September of 2003. Requiring 321 million cubic meters of sand—about the volume of 150 Major League Baseball stadiums, up to the top of the foul poles and including the stands—the World Islands cost over $14 billion to build. With one island for every country (excluding Israel), the World Islands together covered over 20 square miles of the Persian Gulf.

Located just three miles off the coast of Dubai, the 300 islands that made up the World Islands are supposed to resemble a world map when viewed from above. Unfortunately for the islands’ developers, the archipelago turned out to be only vaguely recognizable. Due to weathering, sinking, and erosion, the World Islands have lost their well-defined borders. Central America is practically nonexistent, Australia is awkwardly made up of five rectangular strips of sand, and Europe, Africa, and Asia have merged into a largely indistinguishable blob.

In addition to the aesthetic problem, the World Islands don’t have a reliable source of electricity, as the plan to install electric cables under the Persian Gulf has fallen flat. For these reasons, 291 of the 300 World Islands have been left undeveloped and to this day remain nothing but sand. Even though 60% of the islands were sold to private companies and investors by 2008, after eight years nearly all have remained untouched.

As of 2016, only nine of the islands have been developed: Lebanon Island, Pete’s Island, the six islands making up the “Heart of Europe” resort, and Island Michael Schumacher (named after the seven-time Formula One World Champion). The entire continents of Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America remain entirely uninhabited blotches of sand.




Perhaps the most recognized of the bunch, Palm Jumeirah is aptly shaped like a palm tree, consisting of a trunk and 17 fronds, and surrounded by an almost 7-mile-long crescent-shaped island which is home to Atlantis, The Palm (just one of many luxury hotels and resorts that dot the archipelago). The project was kicked off by Nakheel Properties in 2001, and ultimately added 40 miles of much-needed beaches.

Today, travelers can access Palm Jumeirah from mainland Dubai via a monorail, and an underwater tunnel connects the topmost frond to the crescent. Upcoming debuts for Palm Jumeirah include The Palm Tower, with floors occupied by St. Regis Dubai and Nakheel Mall.

Palm Jebel Ali


Work on a second Palm island, Palm Jebel Ali, began in 2002, but due to the 2008 financial crisis, construction halted. Nakheel has since reassured reporters that Jebel Ali is not canceled, but a “long-term project.”

If and when the island is complete, it will be 50 percent larger than Palm Jumeirah and feature homes built on stilts, a water park, villas, six marinas, and sprawling boardwalks shaped into the words of a poem written by Sheikh Mohammed himself.



The Deira Islands were in the early stages of being built when construction was put on hold in 2008. The original project, called Palm Deira, was to be another set of artificial islands shaped like a palm tree. It was planned to be the largest of the three palms, about eight times the size of the Palm Jumeirah.

Although land reclamation and construction of the palm has been put on hold, the southwestern portion of the base structure is being developed to host the world’s largest night souk – a marketplace or bazaar where people can shop for food, spices, clothing, textiles, crafts, jewelry, housewares, and almost anything else you can imagine.

There are several other artificial islands near the Deira Islands. the Deira Islands are the 4 large islands in the right-hand portion of the photo. Moving to the left, other man-made structures shown include Port Rashid, Maritime City, Pearl Jumeirah, and the beginning stages of La Mer.



Blue waters Island is another man-made island in Dubai. The island features hotels, residential buildings, restaurants, shopping, entertainment, and more.

The most notable feature on Blue waters Island is Ain Dubai, or the “Dubai Eye.” At 210 meters high, it is the world’s tallest and largest Ferris wheel. It has 48 observation pods from which visitors can enjoy the view of Dubai’s skyline and shoreline. Blue waters Island is open to the public; however, the Dubai Eye is not scheduled to open until October 2020.



Completed in 1999, the Burj Al Arab is a luxurious 5-star hotel which was built on its own artificial island. The interior is stunning. The atrium, which is the tallest in the world, features a large fountain that shoots water more than 42 meters into the air. Over 30 types of marble were used in the hotel, with some imported from Italy and Brazil. But the thing that grabs most people’s attention is the amount of Gold which is gilded to walls, columns, staircases, fixtures, and more; there is even a gold-plated elevator. In total, 24-karat gold leaf covers about 1,790 square meters of the interior! This amount of gold would weigh approximately 180.4 troy ounces – a value of $52,361 in 1999. This is certainly a lot of money; however, the cost of the labor to carefully install all of the gold leaf was probably much more expensive than the gold itself.

The hotel is almost as tall as the Empire State Building, and 250 subsurface columns were installed to support the massive structure. Each column is 1.5 meters in diameter and runs 45 meters below the surface. These columns (also called foundation piles) are made of concrete reinforced with steel, and they rely on friction from the sand to keep them in place.


The construction of these artificial islands is an enormous project. Sand is dredged from the gulf and redeposited to form the islands. The Palm Jumeirah was created without the use of concrete or steel – just millions of cubic meters of dredged sand and locally quarried rock.

Challenges to the construction include erosion and liquefaction. Additionally, the currents in the gulf now flow around the structures and are eroding the Dubai coastline in places that were previously not affected.

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