Designs revealed for Dubai Reefs, world’s largest ocean restoration and ecotourism project

The floating living lab could be home to solar-powered eco lodges, a 200-square-kilometre artificial reef and more than 100 million mangroves

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Plans for what could be the world’s largest ocean restoration and ecotourism project in Dubai have been revealed.

Dubai Reefs would be a floating living lab for marine restoration and ecotourism, said developer URB.

At the heart of the futuristic project is a sprawling marine institute, where scientists and researchers could work towards greater protection of Dubai’s marine and coastal regions.

The project, which is currently only in the research and development stage, would support the building of an artificial reef, spanning approximately 200 square kilometres across the Dubai coastline. This would help regenerate the city's coastal ecosystem and provide protection from storms and habitats for fish and marine life.

Responsible tourism is a major part of the plans. Tourists would travel by electric boat shuttles to Dubai Reefs for unique marine ecotourism experiences.

Staying in floating eco resorts and lodges, all of which would be powered by 100 per cent renewable energy, travellers would have first-hand access to the marine projects at the site, which include creating a habitat for more than a billion corals and the planting of more than 100 million mangrove trees.

Unique eco activities on offer would include underwater “forest bathing”, similar to the ancient Japanese wellness practice that promotes calm and quiet among the trees. At Dubai Reefs, the corals would act as the trees of the ocean. Tourists would also have “edutainment” classes at The Marine Institute, to help visitors better understand the ecosystem connecting people with the ocean.

The project would also include residential properties, retail outlets, educational facilities and research hubs, with a total built-up area of about 80,000 square metres and a target of creating more than 30,000 green jobs.

If realised, Dubai Reefs could also house wave farms which would be used to produce additional clean energy for the city’s growing population. And climate-friendly food production could be produced at the floating site via regenerative ocean farming.

“The health of our cities is intrinsically tied to the health of our oceans. The ocean is the source of life controlling everything. Given that everything on our planet is connected, a healthy ocean is a healthy city,” said Baharash Bagherian, chief executive of URB.

“We need an entrepreneurial spirit in the planning of coastal cities and the types of infrastructure as well as developments that are linked to the ocean. As an innovative coastal city, Dubai is best positioned to lead such a transformation. Beyond creating a unique resilient destination for eco-tourism and marine research, Dubai Reefs aims to become a blueprint for ocean living, while mitigating the impacts of climate change,” added Bagherian.

Depending on when the project is funded, the first phase could be realised by 2025 to 2030, and Dubai Reefs could be the project Dubai needs to transform it into a world-recognised eco-destination. With travellers in the UAE increasingly prioritising sustainable travel, it could be a timely initiative.

At present, URB is addressing several challenges for the project, the primary one being commercial viability.

“The main challenge is the commercial viability, to ensure that the entire initiative can be funded privately and that all assets are revenue-generating assets. We are looking to develop the best balance between built-to-lease assets and built-to-sell assets that are in line with the project mission. Any built-to-sell assets will provide the revenue for funding the additional phases of the project, thus not requiring any public funding,Bagherian told The National.

Other factors still being considered during the research phase are ways to ensure that all aspects of sustainability are considered by the operators, and that the project, if realised, is entirely inclusive and accessible to all.

URB has had a busy year so far. In February, the developer announced plans for The Loop — a sustainable 93km cycling and wellness highway in Dubai.

Housing a zero-emissions transport system, The Loop would be powered by kinetic flooring, allowing it to operate on 100 per cent renewable energy, and the aim is to offer leisure options for residents and visitors.

Scroll through the gallery below for more pictures of The Loop

Updated: May 11, 2023, 8:01 AM