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Island-building killing Middle East coral

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates Stroll on Dubai's shore and
dead coral crunches underfoot. The normally crystal-clear Gulf is
fogged with silt. Eroding beaches need truckloads of sand to stay
in place.

The $14 billion manmade islands project that is luring buyers
from around the world is also damaging the habitat for Gulf marine
life.

The new land masses have buried coral reefs, oyster beds and sea
grasses that nurtured fish and sea turtles. They block and reroute
natural currents, eroding Dubai's famed natural beaches.

One of the archipelagoes, the Palm Jebel Ali, lies in an area
once protected as a marine wildlife zone.

Government-controlled developer Nakheel acknowledges its
projects have covered reefs and altered the environment, and says
it is trying to counteract some of the damage. Once work is
finished, sea life will thrive on the islands' artificial reefs,
said Imad Haffar, Nakheel's research and development manager.

But the environment will never be the same, said Frederic
Launay, director of the Abu Dhabi office of the World Wide Fund for
Nature.

"If you build stretches of five-star hotels with landscaped
gardens, you're transforming a wild environment to an urban
environment," Launay said. "There will be different species. It's
an artificial system."

Divers and environmentalists say construction dredges have
stirred up so much silt that coral reefs and other creatures are
being asphyxiated or chased away. The silt has ruined Dubai's
diving at least temporarily.

"Visibility is zero," said Ibrahim al-Zu'bi of the Emirates
Diving Association.

Al-Zu'bi said he dived on an oyster bed off Dubai this month and
found it covered in more than two inches of silt. Divers have
abandoned Dubai's waters for cleaner environs on the Gulf of Oman,
he said.

Haffar said the silting is temporary and that once the sea
clears, Nakheel will seek to resurrect diving opportunities around
its palm islands. The company hired a marine biologist to try to
rejuvenate suffering coral, he said.

David Bellamy, the British conservationist and TV documentary
host, said after touring a Palm construction site that it was
"like watching Venice being built." He agreed that rubble dumped
to create the islands would provide cover for fish.

"If they do it right with proper effluent treatment, there will
be a lot of new habitat," he said.