Coral Reefs or Mega Structures?

The issue is that we humans always choose the path that gives us maximum ‘instant’ benefit, but we forget that that we chose short term benefits over long term and ‘long lasting’ benefits. One big example is the development of the man made islands in the Persian gulf. In the shape of palm trees, as well as in the shape of the map of the world itself, these structures have teared down the precious coral reef structures over which these artificial lands have been built.


Photo Credit : Dubai Travel

Disregarding the location of these rare ecosystems, when planning on building these artificial islands, has not only caused a loss of coral reef cover, but has also lead to degraded shoreline conditions as the new islands change the movement of water and thus leading to beach erosion. This does not mean that those coral reefs that remained untouched, away from the processes of building these islands are safe. In construction of these islands not only is the area where the island is built is destroyed, but also the sea bed from where the land mass is borrowed to build the island is destructed1. Corals reefs, along with a large area of oyster beds and sea grasses, all had been buried by the construction of these islands2.

Hardly even less than one percent of the ocean beds are covered by coral reefs3. Now the remaining ‘untouched’ ones are in danger too because of the worsening conditions of the ocean waters. We already know that global warming has not only caused rise in atmospheric temperatures, but has also caused oceanic temperatures to rise. As well, there has been an increase in the acidity of oceans because of rise in atmospheric carbon levels, with more of it being absorbed by oceans and eventually over time lowering its pH. All this results in a cascade of negative effects on the marine ecosystems, such as the bleaching of corals, the disintegrating and weakening of the coral shells, and thus leading to a lower water quality because since coral reefs play an important role in filtering and recycling organic matter in the sea water4. Check out WWF’s tweet to see what healthy vs unhealthy coral reefs look like. Specifically in the case of UAE’s so called eighth wonder of the world, the man made islands, as referred to by the creators, the ‘sheikhs’5, the coral reefs face a much greater threat because not only have the reefs decreased in size due to loss during the construction, but also the remaining ones are facing much harsher conditions due to the presence of the worlds largest desalination plant on the coast of UAE.

As of 2010, UAE has the largest desalination plant installed; a system that takes in salty sea water, removes the salt and other content to make it usable, and releases back into the sea as its waste product, a hot salty water solution full of pollutants known as brine1. Already, global warming, acidification of oceans, and pollution has made the living conditions very harsh for many sensitive species that have narrow range of tolerance. Corals too have a very narrow range of conditions in which they live and survive. On top of that, conditions get even worse with the release of water solutions like brine. So what have we done here? Yes, gave precedence to instant profit over long term overall benefits that could be achieved by taking into consideration the ecological benefits of these diverse and highly productive marine systems, the coral reefs. But that would have been possible only if these systems had any value in the eyes of creators of the islands. Now the question is, will these islands stand, and for how long will they stand, the effects of global warming, of which one is of the greatest concern, that is the rise in sea levels, which is a fact.

In every decision we make, whether at a small personal scale, or at a governmental level, our natural environment must always be taken into consideration, because everything in nature is so interconnected that change at one end can lead to changes at the other end that may or may not be good positive changes, just as seen in the case of UAE’s coral reefs. 


  1. C Sheppard, et al. (2010). The Gulf: A young sea in Decline. Marine Poll. Bulletin. 60: 13-38
  2. Samer Bagaeen (2007): Brand Dubai: The Instant City; or the Instantly Recognizable City, International Planning Studies, 12:2, 173-197
  3.  Yann AB, et al. (2009). Home. Retrieved from
  4. Morgan, J. (2013). Sponges help coral reefs thrive in ocean deserts – BBC News. Retrieved from
  1. Booth Robert. (2008). Pitfalls in paradise: why Palm Jumeirah is struggling to live up to the hype | Travel | The Guardian. Retrieved from
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