The Island Life: Artificial Islands and the Future of Real Estate

by Joel Harper on 2018-05-03 4:11pm

The Pearl-Qatar, a artificial island in Doha, Qatar

Image by: Steven Byles

By Joel Harper

Land is a finite resource. This is one of the reasons why its value is constantly rising. There is only so much usable space to build on. While we haven’t run out of space yet, that may become a concern in the not too distant future. Between new construction to accommodate the ever-growing population and rising sea levels, the supply of usable land is shrinking every year.

So what do we do if we run out of land? One answer to this question is “create more land.”

Man-made islands are not a new phenomena. Throughout history, humans have raised up artificial islands in bodies of water. Then, as with now, when a population of an area runs out of usable land to build on, they will create artificial islands to provide more land for the population.

The majority of this island building has occurred in the previous century as new technologies and processes allowed for creation of islands faster and on a larger scale than had previously been possible.

The modern process for creating an artificial island almost always involves digging up dirt or stone from one location and dumping it onto a reef or underwater rock formation until a land mass is created that sits above the water. In fact, some artificial islands, such as the Île Notre-Dame, were created from the remains of other excavation projects.

The largest artificial land, in terms of square kilometers, is Flevopolder in the Netherlands. This approximately 970 square kilometer (374.5 square mile) land mass is the southern portion of the Dutch province of Flevoland. Nearly the entirety of the province of Flevoland, including Flevopolder, was reclaimed from a bay called Zuiderzee, that used to sit in that location. Over 300,000 people currently live on Flevopolder.

The next largest man-made island is the commercial and tourist destination Yas Island in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While nothing compared to the impressive size of Flevopolder, Yas Island still contains an impressive 25 square kilometers (9.7 square miles) of land.

Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, circa 2013

Image by: Richard Schneider

One of the most impressive and headline catching artificial island building projects is also located in the UAE, specifically in Dubai. A number of artificial island projects have been undertaken in Dubai. The planned goal will be a series of artificial archipelagos that will include the Palm Jumeirah, Palm Deria, and The World. At the moment, the only one that has been completed and has residents is Palm Jumeirah. The total area of the island is only 6.5 square kilometers (2.5 square miles). However, due to its shape which primarily consists of thin, palm-frond-like sections that curve away from a central segment, the island has 520 kilometers (320 miles) of coastline. What is even more incredible is that Palm Jumeirah intended to be the smallest of the Palm Islands project.

Island building is not without its downsides though. The material used to create islands has to come from somewhere. Often it’s drawn from the waters near where the island will be built. Significant dredging could cause increased erosion or disrupt barriers to flooding. The other problem comes from the impact of moving tons of dirt and dumping it onto a reef or into a lagoon. Removing dirt from a location can upset the ecosystem where the removal occurs or can stir up latent pollutants and toxins. Similarly, the ecosystem located where the island will be created can be completely disrupted by the sudden influx of sand. Reefs can be be smothered, fish can be suffocated, and the waters can be clouded. Worse, the impact may not be limited to the dredging or building site. Since island building obviously takes place in a body of water, the dirt being used to build an island may be caught up in the currents and drift into nearby waters where it can cause further disruption to the local ecosystem.

The creation of artificial islands is a possible solution to the dwindling amount of new land to build on. In a number of locations, people are already pursuing this path. Whether this is the right solution or not has yet to be seen. As sea levels rise though, we may not have a choice. Short of fleeing to space or building underwater cities, our only option may be to create new islands to live on. Who knows, there may be a time when all property is beachfront property.


Joel Harper is a content writer for At Your Pace Online. In his over five and a half years with the company, he has written on numerous educational topics. Joel is a graduate of Southern Oregon University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology. He lives in Ashland, Oregon with his wife and dog in a house that is very far from the ocean.