Malaysia’s $60 billion Forest City is making Singapore uneasy.
Welcome to Forest City, the residential island more than 10 square kilometres in size, with no cars and lush vegetation.
It’s one of four sand banks built by Malaysia in the narrow sea separating it from Singapore as part of a $60 billion project.
The neighbouring nation is none too happy about the new piece of territory moving towards it, but it too has made plans to artificially expand its territory by 62sq-km.
Building land where once there was only water is becoming surprisingly common, despite its expense, and there are many reasons for doing so.
China has been causing controversy by building artificial islands on top of disputed reefs in the South China Sea, and constructing runways, radar and communications towers on top.
The reefs are also claimed by other Asian nations, so China’s development of them looks like an aggressive move, which will drastically increase the nation’s military power on a key shipping route into Asia.
But Singapore is importing its own sand for a planned expansion.
Dubai’s Palm Islands and The World. Photo / NASA/ Jesse Allen
The United Arab Emirates is home to numerous manmade islands. Dubai has the Palm Islands projects – Palm Jebel Ali, Palm Deira and the $21.7 billion Palm Jumeirah, the only one completed so far.
It has also touted many more ambitious island projects along its Persian Gulf coastline, including the World (shaped like a map), the Universe and the Dubai Waterfront. They will be constructed from sand dredged from the sea floor.
Kiribati in the Central Pacific revealed last month that it had asked the UAE for advice on building artificial islands to save the low-lying nation from rising sea levels, in an exercise the ABC estimated would cost $140 million.
Abu Dhabi boasts the 25sq-km Yas Island, which has hosted the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix since 2009, and is slated to become a leisure, shopping and entertainment precinct costing around $53 billion.
Qatar has The Pearl, a $19 billion four sq-km piece of land that is expected to house 45,000 residents by 2018.
A Chinese vessel is used to expand the Johnson Reef in the Spratly Islands of South China Sea in this photo captured by the Philippines as the disputes escalate. Photo / AAPChigua (Kennan) Reef in the disputed Spratlys Islands. Photo / AAP
There are fears that these artificial islands, which import huge amounts of sands from other countries or dredge it up from the sea bed, could cause environmental catastrophes.
Singapore’s dredging of 500 million tonnes of sand from the southwest of Cambodia has reportedly done untold damage to coastal areas, destroying fishing communities and the ecosystem.
China’s massive territorial claims are causing concerns everywhere from Vietnam to the US to the Philippines, which has alleged that China causes economic losses of at least $100 million dollars annually due to such activities, destroying an estimated 1.2 sq-km of coral reef systems in the Spratlys Islands group.
Male, capital of the Maldives, “solved” its rubbish crisis by building a garbage island called Thilafushi, which threatens to leak toxic chemicals into the sea.
Manmade islands may also be exposed and vulnerable. Japan’s second artificial island, Rokko, was one of the areas hardest hit by the Great Hanshin earthquake. The five sq-km island is home to a water park, apartments, a museum and schools.
These constructions are also a political risk, since they often encroach on land claimed by other nations, or are seen as an intimidating move to gain territorial advantage.
Other artificial islands are simply bizarre. Harmesh Pooni locked himself inside the 19th-century No Man’s Land Fort, near the Isle of Wight, to escape his creditors.
Spiral Island II in Mexico is made out of 100,000 plastic bottles. And in the North Sea, between Belgium and the Netherlands, lies a conceptual steel sculpture by Chinese artist Zhan Wang, featuring an elf, a computer and a fisherman.
Hopefully no one will consider that a gesture of war.