7+ Curious Facts About Dubai's Palm Islands

The Palm Islands in Dubai are some of the most ambitious, and technically challenging, feats of engineering in the world.
Christopher McFadden

Built to attract tourists from all around the world, the Palm Islands in Dubai are incredible feats of engineering. In this article, we'll briefly explore how they were built and examine some of their vital stats.


What are the Palm Islands in Dubai?

The Palm Islands in Dubai are three artificial islands built on the coast of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The three islands, Palm Jumeirah, Deira Islands, and Palm Jebel Ali, are some of the most ambitious engineering projects ever initiated.

Of the three, only Palm Jumeirah has actually been completed and, as the name suggests, takes the form of a large palm tree topped with a crescent.

Each island was planned to have residential, leisure and entertainment centers erected on them and they will add over 500 km of non-public beaches to the city of Dubai once finished.

Palm Jumeirah stretches around 5 km into the Arabian Gulf and is self-styled as the "eighth wonder of the world". Just like the other Palm Islands, it is being built by the Dubai government-owned developer Nakheel.

The other two islands fell foul of the 2008 financial crises and though the land reclamation had been completed, no further development has been planned for the near future for Palm Jebel Ali. Palm Deira, was supposed to be around 8 times bigger than Palm Jumeirah, but plans for it have since been significantly scaled back.

It is now planned to convert this project into a less ambitious four-island site. This 1,530-hectare development will eventually include hotels, residential towers, a sprawling mall, and a marina.

How were the Palm Islands built?

Unlike other largescale constructions, the islands' foundations were made from millions of tons of blasted rock, rather than concrete slabs. This rock was sourced from the nearby Hajar Mountains.

Hundreds of millions of cubic tonnes of sand were also dredged from the seafloor and used to form the upper parts of the new manmade archipelagoes. 

So much rock and sand was used in the islands' construction that it has been estimated that it could be used to build a 2-meter wide wall that could encircle the globe three times!

Palm Jumeirah island is protected from the ravages of the sea by an 11-km manmade breakwater that surrounds the island in a crescent-shape. This also helps protect the island from seasonal 'shamal' winds that often blow across the Gulf from Iraq. 

"A geotextile membrane, which stops the sand from washing away, was topped by a layer of one-ton rocks, followed by two more layers of rocks weighing up to six tons each.

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A 100m-wide opening was added on each side of the crescent to allow water to circulate and prevent it [from] becoming stagnant. A 6m-wide boardwalk stretches the length of the crescent and is a top spot for a sunset stroll." - Travel Zoo

The shape of each island was guided using hi-tech GPS systems onboard each dredger to ensure pinpoint sand deployment accuracy. Vibro-compaction technology was also used to prepare the reclaimed land once the island shapes had been completed. 

palm islands facts
Modified from Tobias Karlhuber/Wikimedia Commons

The Palm Jumeirah took around six years to complete and the project cost $12 billion. Today each of the 17 fronds of the island is home to 1,500 beachfront mansions with a further 6,000 apartments on its "trunk".

"Major hotels on the crescent include Atlantis The Palm and the Waldorf Astoria, with brands such as Fairmont and Viceroy on the trunk. Resorts in the works include The Royal Atlantis, next to the existing Atlantis resort, and Palm 360, a two-tower resort connected by a 155m-long 'sky pool'." - Travel Zoo 

What was the purpose of the Palm Islands?

The main reason for the construction of the Palm Islands was to increase Dubai's tourism market by providing a one-of-a-kind tourist destination. This was seen as especially important to the UAE to be able to hedge against the predicted long-term decline in project oil revenues as reservoirs ran out.

Each of the archipelagoes had been planned to be brimming with world-class hotels, upscale services, amenities, as well as many kilometers of private beaches for holiday goers and local residents.

Another reason for the islands' construction was to provide prime real estate for private individuals. Additionally, exclusive residential beachside villas and apartments, marinas, water theme parks, restaurants, shopping malls, sports facilities, and health spas were also planned for the islands. 

7 takeaway facts about the Palm islands

1. Palm Jumeirah, the only completed island, consists of 17 branches and a central trunk surrounded by a crescent-shaped 11-km breakwater. The artificial archipelago is roughly 5-by-5 kilometers in dimension and has an area of roughly 800 football fields. 

2. Palm Jumeirah also has an artificial reef that was partially created by sinking two F-100 Super Sabre jet fighters. Whether there is some symbolism in this or not is unknown, but it is a fond favorite destination for scuba divers.

3. Over 12,000 Palm trees were planted on Palm Jumeirah alone. These were grown in a nursery in Jumeirah, Dubai. 

4. "A vehicular tunnel connects the spine to the crescent, and a transit monorail runs about 3 miles (4.8 km) from the mainland to the crescent through the spine and trunk. The crescent is 650 feet (200 meters) wide and about 10.5 miles (17 km) long altogether. At least 1,380 acres (560 hectares) of new land were created within an area about 3.1 miles (5 km) in diameter." National Britannica

palm islands palm jumeirah
Source: Richard Schneider/Flickr

5. Palm Jumeirah was the first of three such manmade archipelagoes planned. Of the other two, Palm Jebel Ali has since been mothballed and Palm Deira has been significantly scaled back.

6. Millions of tons of blasted rock and dredged sand from the seafloor were used to reclaim the land for the islands. This material was compacted using vibro-compaction technology.

7. The islands were planned and built in a bid to increase tourism to Dubai. This was to act as an insurance policy against the exhaustion of UAE's extensive oil reserves in the future.