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Artificial islands a viable option?

3/10/2010

By Janelle Riley-Thornhill
It is no secret that the available land space in this country is quite limited, and with more and more tourism-related developments popping up every and anywhere, some Barbadians are starting to wonder if there will be enough land left for them to own a piece of the rock.

It is for this reason, as well as the fact that tourism is our mainstay and needs every opportunity to progress and expand, that I think the idea of creating artificial islands off of the West Coast of Barbados is not a bad idea. That proposal, put forward by real estate magnate Paul Altman, has been on the table for about a year now and as I understand it, would consist of a 250-acre island that would house new tourism-based developments and a second with a size of 50 acres, to serve as a national park. Certainly, not only would it provide alternative accommodation for the tourists who visit these shores and provide employment for more Barbadians, but it could make this country more attractive to the more affluent tourists, which could mean more foreign exchange.

Indeed, this concept of creating islands would be somewhat new to the Caribbean region. Yes, countries have reclaimed land before, Barbados included – the current site of the Bridgetown Deep Water Harbour is what was Pelican Island – but to go to the extent of actually developing an island off the coast has not been done. However, I do think that it would serve to raise our stakes where the tourism industry is concerned.

Obviously such a venture would not be cheap, but there have been cases where it has proven to be a very lucrative option for many cities which, like us, have land scarcity problems. Some also believe that in the future, such islands could become quite commonplace as many cities around the world face serious land shortages in their urban areas and overcrowding. This is the route being taken by city-state Dubai, which is one of the smallest but wealthiest countries in the world and with a population of about one million, they may need it even more than us.

We could perhaps take a leaf out of Dubai’s book. In recent times they have started to build a number of these islands to house luxury residences, villas and hotels and there is no doubt that such development will have a major positive impact on their tourism, even if only because it would be something novel for potential tourists to experience.

Undoubtedly, there has been some concern raised about the environmental impact of such islands on the local marine ecology and also the long-term viability of such islands, especially with climate change resulting in rising sea levels. While that should be looked at, I do not think that the option should be discounted.

Like anything else, establishing such land masses has its advantages and disadvantages. Experts suggest that by reclaiming land we run the risks of damaging corals and marine life. If that is the case, the corals should be moved when the land is to be reclaimed, but there is the possibility that they may not survive, and that is something that we as a country would have to weigh the pros and cons of, as it could also have a direct impact on the food chain.
Taking all of that into consideration, which ever way we choose to go, it is important that it is not a step that is taken lightly.

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