Wave-powered floating lab to advance marine restoration, regenerative ocean farming and ecotourism, creating 30,000 jobs in Dubai

A new project called Dubai Reefs consists of a sustainable floating community for marine research, regeneration and ecotourism.

The project includes residential, hospitality, retail, educational and research facilities.

The marine institute will be the heart of the project, working towards greater protection of the marine and coastal environment of Dubai, UAE.

It aims to accelerate the marine science and conservation capacity of Dubai, UAE whilst building the most diverse artificial reef, covering 200 square kilometers. It also aims to create a home to more than 1 billion corals and to more than 100 million mangrove trees.

The project will also offer unique experiences in marine ecotourism with various floating eco lodges, all of which are powered by 100% renewable energy with various types of solar and hydropower. These include wave farms that will also produce additional clean energy for Dubai’s growing population

Regenerative ocean farming is another key feature of the project, which is a climate friendly food production technique.

The project was proposed by design firm URB, which is based in Dubai.

The CEO of URB, Baharash Bagherian (in a private communication with REVITALIZATION Editor Storm Cunningham), said “Our world will be soon be completely transformed. The increasing challenges of climate change coupled with urbanization, will have extreme impacts on biodiversity. Given that the health of humans is based on the health of our natural ecosystems, we need an entrepreneurial spirit in the planning of developments that provide social, economic and environmental benefits. The next generation of developments understand the value of natural habitats & the opportunities for long-term sustainability. Dubai Reefs is an innovative example of such entrepreneurship, putting human and ecological wellness at its heart.

Bagherian goes on to highlight the significance of the project for Dubai, as well as other coastal cities experiencing sea level rise: “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. Our ocean will be entirely different by the end of the century if we don’t take action today,” he explained.

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 ecotourism and marine research, Dubai Reefs aims to become a blueprint for ocean living, whilst mitigating the impacts of climate change,” he added.

Ultimately, Dubai Reefs will promote social, environmental and economic benefits. It aims to transform Dubai into an eco-destination, where the ocean and the city thrive in balance.

Why Dubai Reefs?

By the end of this century, many of the world’s cities including Dubai, will face catastrophic threat from rising seas and coastal flooding if the world fails to commit to the Paris Agreement’s goal of reducing carbon emissions and limit global average temperature rise to 1.5 C.

Furthermore, even if the Paris Agreement Pledged are honored, many cities will have to adapt to live with sea level rise and coastal flooding, including Dubai.

Our ocean is growing due to two main factors; The melting of land ice and thermal expansion, which are both the result of climate change.

Today, our oceans are absorbing more heat than at any point over the last 10,000 years; absorbing 90 percent of the excess heat generated by climate change. Our ocean is also becoming more acidic.

Rising sea levels will have significant impacts to coastal cities and urban life. Climate change will also have a catastrophic impact on our coral reefs. If current CO2 emission trends continue, coral reefs could be extinct by the end of this century.

Coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems on our planet, yet they cover less than 1% of the planet’s surface. Coral reefs provide many benefits yet are now rapidly declining due to environmental impacts.

Coral reefs provide an important ecosystem for life underwater whilst playing an important role in water filtration, fish reproduction, shoreline protection and erosion prevention. Corals enhance the quality and clarity of our near shore waters. They are one of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems in the world.

Marine Life Restoration

The project aims to enhance the coastal ecosystems of Dubai as a mitigation strategy.

Coastal ecosystems are the unique habitats formed by plants and other organisms that can thrive at the borders between ocean and land.

They are full of plants that help to regulate the earth’s temperature. These are forests of the sea. They keep carbon out of our atmosphere by pulling it from the air, and storing it in their tissue, roots, and soil.

Whilst Dubai’s coast has been greatly impacted by oil-digging, dredging and reclamation projects in the past decades. Dubai Reefs project will regenerate the coastal ecosystem of Dubai. It aims to provide protection from storms, whilst also providing habitat for wildlife and fish.

The 200 square kilometer artificial reef will provide invaluable ecological and economic richness, nurturing marine species and providing a natural defense against coastal erosion.

Dubai Reefs will also promote coral ecosystems, which provide numerous benefits that are important for climate change adaptation. These include coastal protection and food security. Coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrass meadows sequester and store more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests.

Over the last 30 years we have lost 50% of the world’s corals. Our cities should be in a symbiotic relationship with our oceans; adapting to each other, benefiting each other and working together.

The ocean is the planet’s life support system. Our oceans hold almost 97% of all the water resources on the earth and is the largest ecosystem on the planet, containing 94% of the earth’s wildlife.

Our human health is thus intimately tied to ocean health. Over half of the oxygen we breathe is generated by our oceans. The ocean is also a carbon sink, absorbing more CO2 than it releases.

Marine Tourism

Artificial coral reefs are a major benefit for ecotourism, they are like undersea cities, filled with vibrant fish and sea creatures. Artificial reefs can also be just as beautiful as the natural varieties and help towards tourism.

Dubai Reefs will also provide floating eco resorts and eco lodges as well as a floating marine conversation centre to become a unique destination for ecotourism travelers. It aims to increase employment and provide long-term income-earning opportunities for the community.

The ecotourism hub will also deliver immense emotional and therapeutic benefits for travelers. Eco activities include, underwater “forest bathing” similar to the Japanese practice known as Shinrin Yoku, whereby one is being calm and quiet amongst the trees. In this case, corals are the trees of the ocean.

Ultimately, Dubai Reefs will bring more than ecotourism opportunities; it will strengthen food security at local and global levels. It will also provide social engagement in coral reef restoration and education about marine life.

Research, Education & Technology

The Marine Institute is designed to provide a collaborative environment for public and private sectors; for working together towards greater protection of the marine and coastal environment of Dubai. It aims to accelerate the marine science and conservation capacity of Dubai.

The Marine Institute is designed to provide unique facilities to oceanographers, climate scientists, ocean farmers, marine educators and the next generation of marine biologists.

The Marine Institute aims to lead a global ocean cleanup initiative, to eliminate the 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris that are currently in our ocean.

Technology will also play a critical role in the planning, construction, and operation of Dubai Reefs. Artificial intelligence will be used for monitoring, optimization and programming. In addition to the use of innovative technologies such as Biorock, 3D printing will also be used in the construction of Dubai Reefs.

3D printing will offer great benefits for printing different shapes and textures identical to natural underwater landscapes. It will allow artificial reefs to match the ecosystems’ natural environments. Bioprinting will also be a key area of research for the institute. Researchers will develop 3D printed biomaterials that can host living microalgae similar to corals.

The Marine Institute will study the various methodologies to mitigate the multitude of climate change threats to coral reefs and help accelerate their population. Some of the methodologies include the study of “fragmentation”, where pieces of coral are cut with a small electric saw, allowing each coral to regenerate hundreds of times.

The institute will provide educational programs in marine conservation and blue carbon initiatives. The dedicated conservation efforts of the centre will ensure that coastal ecosystems continue to play their role as long-term carbon sinks. It will also identify how coastal marine aquaculture can be sustainably integrated with artificial coral reef ecosystems while minimizing harm to the environment.

The center will look at ways of increasing biodiversity and biomass, fish abundances and human dietary diversity. Ultimately the mission of the institute is to better connect ocean ecosystem health to human health.

Renewable Energy

Dubai Reefs will use ocean wave energy capture as a continuous renewable and sustainable source of energy. Given the abundance of the ocean, wave energy capture is more reliable and consistent than other renewable energy sources.

Ocean currents move 24/7 around the world. It is environmentally friendly with no energy or carbon emissions, while generating continuous electricity directly into the power grid.

It will also develop the first of its kind blue infrastructures which merges kinetic energy harvesting technology with other blue infrastructures such as ocean farming. The floating structures harness the motion of waves and use it to create electricity.

The floating structures are also integrated with underwater tidal turbines. The power of underwater currents is vast and untapped.

Water is hundreds of times denser than air, which makes tidal energy more powerful and more efficient than wind or solar energy. It produces no greenhouse gases or other waste, making it an attractive renewable energy source.

Regenerative Ocean Farming

Regenerative ocean farming can also provide more than food security. It is a tool for climate adaptation. These large floating masses are integrated with aquatic plant life such as kelp and seaweed which can absorb the energy of storm surges, thus reducing the risk of coastal flooding.

Seaweed aquaculture can sequester carbon and mitigate the local effects of coean acidification, as seaweed photosynthesize, they turn dissolved carbon dioxide (CO2) in surrounding water into growth and oxygen.

Seaweed farms can provide a halo effect to surrounding water, lowering acidity levels with more of this dissolved CO2 and ultimately reducing ocean acidification.

Dubai Reefs will also be home to the largest oyster farm in the region. Oysters provide great benefits for the environment, water quality and the local economy. One oyster can filter 50 gallons of water each day, meaning cleaner water. They also provide food and habitat for other marine organisms.

Given that almost all the world’s fertile land is already in use, yet our oceans, which cover more than three quarters of the planet, provide just 2 percent of our food, it is time to shift the balance towards more sustainable food production.

Ultimately, Dubai Reefs will shift the balance away from land-based proteins which produce 10 times more CO2 than regenerative ocean farming. Thus, fish and other marine life will become the primary source of protein for Dubai residents.

Food Security

Today, only 7 percent of the protein consumed by humans originates from aquatic sources, meaning that 93% of our proteins come from land. Food production accounts for as much as a third of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

UAE imports up to 90% of its domestic food consumption, which poses a serious challenge to the country’s food security when considering global food security challenges.

UAE consumes 220,000 tonnes of fish annually of which 75% is imported. Dubai Reefs aims to shift the balance between import and export through regenerative ocean farming; thus making fish the main staple food item in UAE. This will enhance UAE’s food security whilst also promoting a greener economy.

Regenerative ocean farming is a sustainable method of growing food in the ocean that utilizes the entire water column, from surface to ocean floor. They replicate the ocean’s ecosystem by growing a mix of seaweed and shellfish.

Ropes of seaweed, mussels, scallops, oysters, and clams are strung beside each other across the ocean’s surface. Each of these layers introduces a different type of organism, thus creating a more diverse ecosystem. These farms are able to grow materials that can be used for everything from food to biodegradable plastics.

With land-based food production already under pressure, coupled with a rapidly growing global population, the ocean provides crucial opportunities for food security.

Dubai Reefs will make regenerative ocean farming an important source of nutrition for Dubai residents. This will enable a climate-friendly seafood economy and create thousands of local jobs for marine farmers.

Regenerative Ocean Farming is a climate friendly food production technique, which requires no fresh water, no fertilizer, no feed and no energy. It is the most sustainable food on the planet. Dubai Reefs aims to train local residents in regenerative ocean farming.

Blue Infrastructure

The project will provide various innovative blue infrastructures and operate entirely on 100% renewable energy, from various types of solar, hydropower and wave farms.

Floating turtle and wildlife sanctuaries will provide additional infrastructures to enhance marine and coastal wildlife.

Infrastructure for food security includes Ocean regenerative farming and floating vertical farms.

Floating Sustainable City

Dubai Reefs will provide various services and amenities for visitors, local residents as well as a new workforce living on the ocean. It will create green jobs and empower a greener economy from the oceans to the city.

It will be the first floating sustainable city of its kind offering a mix-use facility of educational, research, residential, retail, hospitality, entertainment and community facilities.

As a floating self-sufficient hub, Dubai Reefs also aims to reconnect the ocean with the city. It will provide a healthy blue infrastructure that promotes social, environmental and economic benefits.

Local residents will benefit from a reward scheme for the use of services or products connected to Dubai Reef. The project will also offer a carbon offsetting scheme called ‘blue carbon’, whereby organizations are able to offset their carbon by planting mangrove trees along the coast.

Dubai Reefs aims to reinvent the way we plan our cities to consider the opportunities of living in harmony with the ocean and how to nurture a sustainable relationship between land and water.

Given that floating cities could be the future of urban living as sea levels continue to rise rapidly in the next few decades; Dubai Reefs will become more than a model for blue urbanism; it will become an eco-destination for human and ecological wellness.

All images courtesy of URB.

See URB website.

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