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By  Sean Cronin Published  May 14, 2005

Counting the cost of Dubai’s diminishing coastline|~|RABIH-MOGHRABI-51398234200.jpg|~||~|Walking around the Arabian Travel Mart last week felt a bit like being Gulliver in Lilliput. There were almost as many matchbox-sized models of planned shoreline and offshore developments as there were exhibitors. It was a fantastic way to get a miniaturised bird’s-eye view of the future vision of Dubai. But the trouble with these vistas is that it’s sometimes difficult to see what’s really happening at ground level, or more importantly, at sea level. Unlike beaches in the real world, the beaches on the models that were displayed at last week’s show were made out of sandpaper. And unlike sand in the real world, the sand on sandpaper is stuck on with glue and painted yellow. It doesn’t get blown or washed away. The coastal engineers employed by Dubai Municipality would have an easier life if they lived in the matchbox and sandpaper world of international travel exhibitions. Unfortunately they don’t. Instead, they have to oversee the stealthy and nocturnal deposition of some 60 000 cubic metres of sand along the Dubai coast every year. That’s a lot of sand for such a little coast. The notion of miles and miles of perpetually self-replenishing golden sands that look like they’ve come straight out of a Bounty Bar advert, is a key component of the image-building we are currently witnessing within the GCC tourism sector. Natural beauty sells. It’s why holiday brochures carry pictures of sun-kissed beaches instead of diesel-stained articulated lorries loaded with sand that has been taken from a desert somewhere nearby. But while the tourists and the rest of us lie asleep at night, it’s worth remembering that convoys of sand wagons are queuing up and down the Gulf coast to deposit their loads. The question is to what extent is the development of offshore islands such as the World and the Palms, a contributing factor to coastal erosion? Nakheel, the developer behind both these projects, says it isn’t at all. But as Christine Keeler once said, ‘they would say that, wouldn’t they?’ Clearly, the rampant offshore development that is taking place currently is not the only factor behind the erosion that we are seeing off the coast of Dubai and in other locations in the Gulf. The Shamal winds which blow across the Arabian Gulf between November and April are responsible for much of it. Speak to any of the contractors working on the Jumeirah Beach Residence project and they will tell you they can easily lose 10 or 15% from every wagon of building sand they order over the course of a windy afternoon during this time of the year. But you can’t blame everything on the Shamal, and it’s in everyone’s interest to take a close look at what the creation of offshore mega-projects is doing to the coastline. It’s not good enough to produce a project-specific environmental impact study and claim the bases have been covered. These projects need to be examined and assessed in aggregate and their impact measured sensibly and independently. Otherwise, we’ll be seeing a lot more of the sand wagons up and down the Arabian Gulf coastline for a very long time to come.||**||

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