Dubai has unveiled ambitious plans for what could become the world's largest ocean restoration and ecotourism project, dubbed Dubai Reefs. Developed by URB, the project is intended to serve as a floating living laboratory for marine restoration and ecotourism.
Central to the futuristic scheme is an expansive marine institute designed for scientists and researchers to collaborate on enhanced protection measures for Dubai's marine and coastal regions. Currently in the research and development stage, the Dubai Reefs project plans to construct an artificial reef approximately 200 square kilometres across the Dubai coastline. The reef would play a pivotal role in regenerating the city's coastal ecosystem, providing a safeguard against storms and a habitat for diverse marine life.
The project's focus on responsible tourism is significant. Visitors would reach Dubai Reefs via electric boat shuttles and stay in floating eco-resorts and lodges, powered entirely by renewable energy. They would gain firsthand exposure to marine projects at the site, including the creation of a habitat for over a billion corals and the planting of more than 100 million mangrove trees.
In addition, Dubai Reefs plans to offer unique eco-activities such as underwater "forest bathing", akin to the ancient Japanese wellness practice. As part of this experience, the ocean's corals would symbolize the trees of the sea. Furthermore, "edutainment" classes at The Marine Institute will equip visitors with a deeper understanding of the marine ecosystem and its connection to humans.
The project is also set to encompass residential properties, retail outlets, educational facilities, and research hubs, with a total built-up area of about 80,000 square meters. The ambitious endeavor aims to create more than 30,000 green jobs.
Moreover, Dubai Reefs could potentially host wave farms to generate additional clean energy for the city’s burgeoning population. The project also envisions climate-friendly food production through regenerative ocean farming.
"The health of our cities is intrinsically tied to the health of our oceans," explained Baharash Bagherian, CEO of URB. "As an innovative coastal city, Dubai is best positioned to lead such a transformation. Dubai Reefs aims to become a blueprint for ocean living while mitigating the impacts of climate change."
Subject to funding, the first phase of the project could materialize between 2025 and 2030, potentially transforming Dubai into a globally recognized eco-destination. The project aligns with a growing trend towards sustainable travel among UAE residents and visitors.
URB faces several challenges, particularly in ensuring commercial viability. Bagherian explained, "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."
The developer is also considering ways to ensure the project's sustainability and inclusivity. URB, already known for its sustainable initiatives, announced plans in February for The Loop — a 93km zero-emissions cycling and wellness highway in Dubai.