Dubai's island builder to build artificial reefs

November 23, 2011 - 7:20 AM

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Nakheel, the Dubai property developer behind the emirate's manmade islands, laid out plans Wednesday to build a string of artificial reefs off the city-state's coast in a bid to attract more aquatic life.

The project aims in part to revitalize fishing prospects in the azure Persian Gulf waters that lap at Nakheel-built islands shaped like palm trees and a map of the world. The company's island-building efforts, now halted, have been criticized for upsetting the Gulf's natural environment.

Construction of more than 500 reefs could begin in a matter of months, likely using a combination of boulders and concrete structures, said Nakheel Chairman Ali Rashid Lootah.

He didn't disclose how much the project would cost, but said it won't be a "big financial burden" for the debt-laden company. That is because many of the rocks and other materials Nakheel plans to use are already piled up outside stalled building sites south of the city.

"We want to do our maximum, our best, to regenerate the marine environment in the whole area of Dubai," Lootah told reporters at Nakheel's headquarters near its iconic Palm Jumeirah island. He said the initiative was Nakheel's own, and didn't come about because of pressure from the fishing industry or environmentalists.

Some planned reef sites could be suitable for commercial fisheries, though fishing will only be allowed at a fraction of sites so sealife is not depleted, Lootah said.

Nakheel was at the center of debt problems that helped plunge Dubai's economy into crisis in late 2009, panicking investors the world over. The crisis forced the company and its former parent Dubai World to renegotiate the terms on more than $35 billion in combined debt.

Nakheel's restructuring effort dragged on for over a year as it struggled to win the support of bank creditors and unpaid contractors who balked at the Nakheel's revised terms. The company completed the restructuring in August.

Several of the islands Nakheel built sit empty, the casualties of a property bust that began in 2008 and has yet to recover. It has shelved plans for additional islands, and is now focused on generating new income while completing projects on dry land.