Why is the world's largest artificial island in the shape of a palm tree?

By: Sarah Dowdey

Dubai Image Gallery An aerial view of Dubai's palm island. See more Dubai pictures.
Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images


You­ can see the flattened palms­ from space­. Their logo-like shapes span Dubai's coast­line, providing prime gulf real estate to interested millionaires. Buyers who want a little more space can even purchase their own private islet on an archipelago shaped like a map of the world.


Since the 198­0s, Dubai has exploded to the forefront of global business and tourism. The ruler of Dubai, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, pursues development as a way to eliminate the emirate's reliance on dwindling oil supplies.

But Dubai's geographical setting limits development: It's a small desert state with a coastline only 37 miles long. High-rises and hotels gobbled up Dubai's Persian Gulf coast in the 1990s, creating a wall of buildings.

In 1993, construction began on Dubai's first man-made island, the future home of the Burj Al Arab, Dubai's famed seven-star hotel. The striking structure stands out from the surrounding skyscrapers, and its location 919 feet out into the sea keeps its shadow from interfering with a nearby beach r­esort. The Burj Al Arab's offshore success contributed to the formulation of an even grande­r plan: enormous artificial islands.

­Sheik Mohammed first sketched the palm design as a way to maximize beachfront property. The longest frond on the smallest island spans nearly a mile of sea and contains property on both sides.

The state-owned company Nakheel developed plans for three palm islands and the multi-islet World. The smallest palm, Palm Jumeirah, accepted its first residents in the summer of 2007 -- David Beckham owns a plot. The Palm Jebel Ali, a medium-size island, is structurally complete. And the largest island, the Palm Deira, is still undergoing sea reclamation.

In the next section, we'll learn how the palms were built.­­­