I am now in Dubai working with National Geographic
on a one-hour documentary on The World project to be aired in their Mega Structure series. Last
ear I worked with them on an identical series program that focused on the Palm Island
development. The program received the highest rating and largest viewing audience of any other
National Geographic program, hence their return to do the program on The World project. The
co-ordination for this effort was through Adnan Dawood, Senior Marketing and PR Officer for The
World project. Time to take a view from the top of The World……….from Underwater.
Professor Joe Valencic in
I attached a few pictures of the National Geographic marine shoot, one with an Adventurers Club flag. Next to me is Shaun Lehenan,
Senior Environmental Manager for Nakheel on The World project and Jonathan Ali Khan, the National Geographic underwater photographer
and managing director of Ocean World Productions. As in the previous documentary on the Palm, the National Geographic film crew captures
the challenges and responsibilities in developing the first of its kind World project.
Professor Joe Valencic, left, Shaun Lehenan, middle, and Jonathan Ali Khan, right during the National Geographic documentary on The World.
The World project is a series of 300 man-made islands set in a pattern to mimic the shape of the globe's landmasses. Each island is between
5 and 20 acres with 50 to 150 meter channels between them. To protect these man-made islands a large oval-shaped, natural rock breakwater
surrounds them. This island complex occupies and area of about 5 miles by 5 miles and has no land connection.
The World planned 300 plus island layout, left, Artist conception showing $230 Million breakwater, middle, and actual Satellite Image, right
If you can afford the $15 to $45 million-dollar purchase price for an island, you can certainly afford a mega yacht for transportation! But remember,
“Man goes to the city to make his money, but goes to an island to save his soul”. Say no more, the expense is justified and I am certain that Hamza Mustafa,
General Manager of The World project and poster man of the May,2006 Issue of Proper”T” magazine would agree. Hamza is a finance graduate,
educated in both England and the US. Since joining Nakheel in 2002 he now finds himself at the proverbial Top of The World. Much to his credit,
Hamza is a hands-on type of manager who has even taken the time to dive with me several years ago on a research Scuba dive to monitor pre-World
development environmental conditions.
Hamza Mustafa, General Manager of The World project, gives insight into Nakheel’s Ionic Project to press and television.
It took me just a short time to look through my underwater photographic archives of previous research dives around the Palm and The World sites
to locate some never before published pictures of the distinguished GM in more sporting attire. Such dives were critical in determining the marine
environmental baseline conditions that existed prior to any dredging or island construction.
Research dive team L-R, Flak Egert, Hamza Mustafa, Jim Miller and Professor Joe Valencic, with Hamza featured in the U/W picture.
Earlier this month, Sir Richard Branson, one of the wealthiest men in the world,Planted the Union Jack and ceremoniously
‘staked his claim’ to Great Britain onthe World. Evidently he knows a real bargain when he sees it since typical prices
in Dubai per square foot are about 1/5th the price of properties in London. Another factor is that there are no government
taxes when buying property in Dubai and there is no capital gains tax when selling the property. This event celebrated the debut of Virgin
Atlantic Airways’ direct flights between the United Kingdom and Dubai. And if you want to go a bit beyond Dubai and
even the World, Virgin Galactic will reportedly offer customers trips to outer space in as soon as three years.
Currently only "Greenland" has an ultra luxury home built on it with the island fully landscaped. It is one of the Palace properties of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and visionary behind the World project. "Sheikh Mo", as his subjects affectionately call him, is a full-throttle monarch with a wealth of wisdom backed by a Cambridge education. He is a beloved ruler of a country that has no income tax, no sales tax, no unemployment, and virtually no crime. The New York Times has named “Sheikh Mo” the Entrepreneur of the Year.
Many writers refer to Dubai is the Capitalist dream on steroids, becoming a juggernaut of tourism, finance and
information age businesses. In fact, Capitalist dream of the West is now coming true............ but in the East,
especially Dubai. And to think this is happening in a tiny country where oil revenues account for only 6% of
its gross domestic product. In addition, it boasts the largest man-made harbor in the world and has so many
massive construction projects that 16 % of the world’s large cranes are located in Dubai. Relative to the World
project and their cousin Palm Islands, I would imagine that over 30% of the world’ largest marine dredges are
also located in the waters off Dubai. But then again how would I know since my main concern is to keep the fish
and new invertebrate inhabitants of the largest artificial reefs on the planet, the natural rocky breakwaters of the
World and Palm Islands happy. And indeed they are.
Shaun Lehenan and Professor Joe Valencic monitor underwater conditions at the breakwater of The World.
The National Geographic Mega Structures television documentary will include research dives Shaun and I made at
different locations around the World project to monitor the marine growth rates on the rocky breakwater. Although
there has been controversy from environmentalists on the building of the World project, my research shows their
concerns are unfounded. The original bottom in the area of the World project and Palm Jumeirah was a thick layer
of consolidated sediment, thus eliminating burrowing organisms, covered by a thin layer of loose and shifting sand.
I have made countless dives over this area to survey the pre-existing bottom conditions and document the meager
Marine animals living in the Arabian Gulf have out of necessity adapted to very hostile oceanographic conditions
including water salinity 30 % HIGHER than the open ocean and summer water temperatures exceeding 92 degrees F.
These conditions tarnish even stainless steel. Most uniquely, about 25 species of corals have adapted to these difficult conditions,
especially since scientists claim that corals "bleach out" and die at temperatures over about 85 degrees F. Elevated summer
temperatures are not the only problem. Gulf life forms must be able to tolerate an annual temperature range of some 45 degrees
Fahrenheit. This is quite dramatic since most marine life outside the Gulf are exposed to water temperature variations less than
half this amount. The new naturally rocky breakwaters of the World give local marine life a bit of respite from their challenging
Digital air temp upper, water temp lower Rocky breakwater replaces sand bottom Mating cuttlefish breakwater recruits
With no suitable bottom substrate for attachment, the marine life was minimal on the pre-construction sites of the World
and Palm Islands. Only a small assortment of polychete worms and some tiny mollusks and crustaceans can survive this
thin veneer of continually shifting sand. Trying to live there was like being tossed in a washing machine loaded with brillo pads.
However, the natural rock breakwater established to protect the islands of the World project also providing the largest
artificial reef on the planet. This permitted an incredible explosion of marine growth due to providing the needed substrate
for their attachment. With the succession of algae, barnacles, etc becoming attached to the rocky breakwater now food,
in addition to shelter, is available for the rapid explosion of fish. Even species once thought near extinction are beginning
to slowly reappear.
Dubai was best known for its pearl oysters that was the basis of its first economy. With the cultured pearls developed
in Japan, Dubai next relied on fish, then free ports, now tourism and commerce. But even today, the environmental
conditions in terms of water quality are perfect for the growth of pearl oysters. So much so that in less than two years
the colonization of the rocky breakwater at the World project breakwater had population densities as high as 75 oysters
PER SQUARE FOOT......NOT PER SQUARE METER. It was incredible...and I did the counting. As a side note, in a natural
rather than cultured environment only about 4 % of oysters contain pearls. The future of pearling in Dubai may take a
new twist since Japanese businessmen have already submitted a proposal to start a culture pearl enterprise in this area.
The rocky natural breakwater of The World provide an ideal attachment point for a healthy community of pearl oysters.
Adjacent to the outer breakwater of the World project is a sunken Iraqi barge, Alamimina, which went down in high
seas in 1971. This 25 meter long barge was carrying a load of concrete when it sank, keel first. It's deteriorating steel
hull rests in 12 meters of water. Over the last 5 years I have made dozens of dives on the barge, day and night, to
observe what a "climax community" of marine organisms and fish would be like. Due to its close proximity to the
World project, I would anticipate similar condition to evidently take place on the World's more recent natural breakwater.
Unfortunately visibility on the sunken Iraqi barge was less than 1 meter so documentation did present a challenge
even to our professional National Geographic underwater photographer. Despite the poor visibility, Shaun and I
identified about 8 different species of corals, some with domed mounds as large as 0.5 meters in diameter, attached
to the steel deck of the wreck. As a marine scientist, this is a good indication that eventually similar coral populations
will occur at the World’s rocky breakwater. This fact was verified by the observation of two solitary coral polyps with
8 mm diameters on the outer breakwater of the World.
“Climax Community” of corals and encrusting marine life at sunken barge close to The World’s rocky breakwater.
Visibility at the World breakwater was somewhat better in the 3-4 meter range, good enough to video a couple of
scientific divers with a lot of water proof, scientific Geek equipment. Water clarity was also good enough to spot ten
different species of fish including two large Jacks. Jacks are generally marauding carnivores of the open ocean and
feed primarily on fishes and crustaceans. They are strong fast swimmers and often very curious of divers. Seeing
them on the inside of the World breakwater tells me the dinner bell just rang and some of our new rocky reef
inhabitants are about to be the Jacks supper.
One of the most striking fish to begin colonization of the World breakwater is an attractive angelfish with a host of
common names such as Arabian angelfish, Red Sea angelfish and Yellow-bar angelfish, but only one Latin scientific
name, Pomacanthus maculosus. It is one of the largest species of angelfish reaching almost 50 cm (20 inches).
Closely related to butterfly fishes, angelfish feed on a preferred diet of sponges and tunicates, all in ample abundance
on the rocky breakwater reef.
One unique quality of angelfish is protogynous hermaphroditism, a $5 word meaning female-to-male sex change
which occurs when the dominant male disappears from a harem and the largest female changes sex to take up the
vacant role. Sounds unique? Not really in the marine world since wrasses, parrotfishes, groupers and wrasses exhibit
this behavior. For instance, if the sole male is removed from a group of cleaning wrasse, the largest female will start
to behave like a male within hours. Within 10 days she -- now he -- will produce sperm.
Sample of fish diversity attracted to the natural rocky breakwater of The World
Most impressive was 50-count school of colorful yellow and black striped Indo-Pacific sergeantdamselfish, Abudefduf vaigiensis.
In this species the males build the nest and invite as many females as possible to deposit their eggs there. In a way these
6-inch long fish are terrific oceanographers since they must establish their nest in a place on the reef where currents are
great to insure dispersal of the larvae. For us human oceanographers it indicates good circulation of water inside the rocky
breakwater of the World. A well deserved snap salute to the sergeant damselfish.
It is unfortunate that we did not have enough time to explore the naturally occurring sea grass beds that Shaun discovered
during previous research dives in the sandy channels between the islands of Palm Jumeirah. I was extremely happy to hear
about the natural occurrence of these beds because they can provide a significant contribution to the overall water quality
and species diversity in these channels. A healthy sea grass community can provide food, shelter and oxygenated water
through photosynthesis. Several marine scientists even consider the sea grass community to be one of the richest ecosystems
on the planet with the potential to exceed that of even a tropical rain forest. If sea grass beds are colonizing in the channel
sediments of Palm Jumeirah it is most probable they will do the same at the World.
The original loose sand over sedimentary cap rock offshore environment of the World project could be considered no more
productive than deserts or arctic tundra. However the Aramco Marine Study, considered being by far the most extensive
study in the Arabian Gulf found that three of the major communities or biotopes of the Gulf are enormously productive.
To quote the Aramco study directly, “the grass bed biotope out producing even tropical forests and growing—without
human aid—more than six times as much greenery as average agricultural land. Grass beds make large amounts of
energy available to animal species—shrimp, fish, oysters and turtles.” A big “High-Five” to the sea grass community of
the World. Another plus of the Aramco Marine Study was 65-page species list of the animals and plants inhabiting the
Gulf,—more than half of them never before reported there and some, perhaps, entirely new to science.
Three of the four-mega structure projects located off Dubai, UAE. Palm Deira is not shown.
So why is Dubai creating all these offshore mega structure island projects like the three massive Palm islands and the World?
Dubai is about the same size as the smallest state in the US, Rhode Island. While Rhode Island has about 400 miles of coastline,
Dubai has only about 45 miles of natural coastline. Each of these developments adds another approximately 45 miles of
coastline to Dubai. In fact, Dr. Don Walsh, a fellow Adventurer Club member and world-class oceanographer calculated
that the World and Palm projects would eventually add 312 miles to Dubai’s coastline, a whopping increase of 74%!
As of December 2006, over 90% of the islands are reclaimed and a diversity of marine life has already taken residence.
But unlike Rhode Island, the new Dubai oceanfront is dotted with $10 million ultra luxury villas and world-class shopping and
entertainment centers. In short, Dubai is said to make “Las Vegas look like a sputtering 25-watt light bulb”, quotes Vanity Fair magazine.
"Sheikh Mo" is speaking of 15 million people each year coming to Dubai that is already considered the top tourist destination in the Eastern
World. This is a big number considering that Dubai has a tiny population of 1.4 million while the US, with it's population of over 300 million,
draws about 45 million tourists from abroad each year. But remember, they are drawn
in Dubai to a landmass the size of Rhode Island!
With the underwater shooting and surface interviews complete for the National Geographic show, I begin tomorrow working
with a French Television team that are also doing a one hour documentary on the World. As they say in Hollywood.......Take Two!
Preparations for research dives at the natural breakwater of The World.