Detached Islands: Artificial Islands as adaptation challenges in the making

  • Michelle Eva Portman Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning Technion - Israel Institute of Technology
Keywords: ocean sprawl, artificial islands, Mediterranean Sea, sea reclamation, land reclamation, offshore islands


There is surprisingly little information and concern within academic literature in the field of coastal or marine planning and management related to the issue of artificial islands. This is particularly noteworthy considering the climate change phenomenon, vis-à-vis sea-level rise, the urgent need for adaptation, efforts aiming for sustainable use of coastal areas, and the recent focus in academic circles on marine spatial planning. Most literature (including grey literature) on artificial islands appears in the engineering and geology disciplines and is focused on energy extraction, i.e., oil and gas. Yet some coastal nations are intent on solving problems of lack of space and other resource shortages through construc- tion of near-shore artificial islands for myriad uses, including commercial, residential and transportation infrastructure. This paper presents a limited review of the policy literature about planning and construction of artificial islands. It reflects what repercussions artificial islands portend for marine conservation, sustainability and, most importantly, how climate change adaptation is highlighted or neglected in spatial solutions addressed by the building of nearshore artificial islands. The Israeli situation, where tenders have been recently published calling for planning and building of islands in the Mediterranean Sea, serves as an example.

Author Biography

Michelle Eva Portman, Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning Technion - Israel Institute of Technology
Dr. Portman graduated the Technion with a B.Sc. in Political Economy of Natural Resources from the University of California Berkeley (’84), a M.Sc. in Urban and Regional Planning (’91), and the University of Massachusetts with a doctorate in Public Policy (’07). She returned to Israel in 2009 following a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at the Marine Policy Center of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Cape Cod, USA. At WHOI she researched how land uses in major fishing ports along the New England coast are influenced by changes in commercial marine fish stocks. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the Geography Department of Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2011. She is now an Associate Professor at the Technion's Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning; her expertise applies to water policy and management and environmental planning for oceans and coasts. She has published widely in major academic journals, with over 40 referred publications, and teaches courses in environmental planning, resources management and GIS. Currently her research focuses on integrated coastal zone management, marine spatial planning, management of marine protected areas, marine litter and water sensitive urban design.


Anglin, D. 2018. Personal communication [via email], M.Sc., P. Eng., Baird & Associates Coastal Engineer Ltd., 23.7.2018

Barnes, B. B., & Hu, C. (2016). Island building in the South China Sea: detection of turbidity plumes and artificial islands using Landsat and MODIS data. Scientific Reports, 6, 33194. doi: 10.1038/srep33194

Bishop, M. J., Mayer-Pinto, M., Airoldi, L., Firth, L. B., Morris, R. L., Loke, L. H. L., et al. (2017). Effects of ocean sprawl on ecological connectivity: impacts and solutions. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 492, 7-30. doi:

Bort, M. (2009). T'hee HaYam -- The Conceptual Plan for the Marine Alternative for Haifa Development [in Hebrew]. Horizons in Geography (Ofekim b'Geografia), 73, 42-57

CBS, (2018). Sources of Population Growth by Type of Locality, Population Group and Religion Jerusalem.

Chee, S. Y., Othman, A. G., Sim, Y. K., Mat Adam, A. N., & Firth, L. B. (2017). Land reclamation and artificial islands: Walking the tightrope between development and conservation. Global Ecology and Conservation, 12, 80-95. doi:

CRC-URI. (2009). Adapting to Coastal Climate Change: A Guidebook for Development Planners. In Coastal Resources Center University of Rhode Island (CRC-URI) and the International Resources Group (IRG) (Eds.), (pp. 148): USAID.

Cressey, E. (2011). Gulf ecology hit by coastal development. Nature News, 16 November 2011.

Davenport, T. (2018). Island-building in the south china sea: Legality and limits. Asian Journal of International Law, 8(1), 76-90.

Douglas, E., Kirshen, P., Paolisso, M., Watson, C., Wiggin, J., Enrici, A., & Ruth, M. (2012). Coastal flooding, climate change and environmental justice: identifying obstacles and incentives for adaptation in two metropolitan Boston Massachusetts communities. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, 17, 537-562.

Firth, L. B., Knights, A. M., Bridger, D., Evans, A. J., Mieszkowska, N., Moore, P. J., et al. (2016). Ocean sprawl: challenges and opportunities for biodiversity management in a changing world. Oceanogr. Mar. Biol. Ann. Review, 54, 193e269.

Fraschetti, S., Pipitone, C., Mazaris, A. D., Rilov, G., Badalamenti, F., Bevilacqua, S., . . . Katsanevakis, S. (2018). Light and Shade in Marine Conservation Across European and Contiguous Seas. Frontiers in Marine Science, 5(420). doi: 10.3389/fmars.2018.00420

Harte, J. (2010). Numbers Matter: Human Population as a Dynamic Factor in Environment Degradation. In L. Mazor (Ed.), A Pivotal Moment (pp. 136-144). Washington, DC: Island Press.

Holon, F., Marre, G., Parravicini, V., Mouquet, N., Bockel, T., Descamp, P., et al. (2018). A predictive model based on multiple coastal anthropogenic pressures explains the degradation status of a marine ecosystem: Implications for management and conservation. Biological Conservation, 222, 125-135. doi:

IPCC. (2014). Climate Change 2014: Summary for policymakers: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In C. B. Field, V. R. Barros, J. Dokken, K. J. Mach, M. D. Mastrandrea, T. E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K. L. Ebi, Y. O. Estrada, R. C. Genova, B. Girma, E. S. Kissel, A. N. Levy, S. S. MacCracken, P. R. Mastrandrea & L. L. White (Eds.). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. 1-32.: Cambridge University Press

Ives, M. (2016). The Rising Toll of China's Offshore Island Land Grab, Yale Environment 360 accessed 5 January 2018.

Kallos, G., Astitha, M., Katsafados, P., Spyrou, C. (2007) Long-range transport of anthropogenically and naturally produced particulate matter in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic: current state of knowledge. J Appl Meteorol Clim 46:1230–1251

Katz, O., & Mushkin, A. (2013). Characteristics of sea-cliff erosion induced by a strong winter storm in the eastern Mediterranean. Quaternary Research, 80(1), 20-32. doi:

Li, L., Switzer, A. D., Wang, Y., Chan, C.-H., Qiu, Q., & Weiss, R. (2018). A modest 0.5-m rise in sea level will double the tsunami hazard in Macau. Science Advances, 4(8), eaat1180. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aat1180

Lister, N., & Muk-Pavic, E. (2015). Sustainable artificial island concept for the Republic of Kiribati. Ocean Engineering, 98, 78-87. doi: 10.1016/j.oceaneng.2015.01.013

Merriam-Webster. (Ed.) (2003) English Dictionary 11 Revised Edition ed. Merriam-Webster.

Ministry of Transport and Road Safety, Notice to English News Media, July, 2017,

Moussavi, Z., & Aghaei, A. (2013). The Environment, Geopolitics and Artificial Islands of Dubai in the Persian Gulf. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 81, 311-313. doi:

Navarra, A., & Tubiana, L. E. (2013a). Regional Assessment of Climate Change in the Mediterranean, Vol 1: Air, Sea and Precipitation and Water. Switzerland: Springer.

Navarra, A., & Tubiana, L. E. (2013b). Regional Assessment of Climate Change in the Mediterranean, Vol 2: Agriculture, Forests and Ecosystem Services and People. Switzerland: Springer.

Navarra, A., & Tubiana, L. E. (2013c). Regional Assessment of Climate Change in the Mediterranean, Vol 3: Case studies. Switzerland: Springer.

Paz, S., & Kidar, O. (2007). Climate Change - Forecast Impacts and Predicted Phenomena: Global Background and Israeli Perspective [in Hebrew]. Haifa, Israel: Haykan Catedra for Geostrategy.

Pisacane, G., Sannino, G., Carillo, A., Struglia, M. V., & Bastianoni, S. (2018). Marine Energy Exploitation in the Mediterranean Region: Steps Forward and Challenges. Frontiers in Energy Research, 6(109). doi: 10.3389/fenrg.2018.00109

Poole, E. (2009). The Dubai Palms: Construction and Environmental Consquences. Paper presented at the World Environmental and Water Resources Congress.

Portman, M. E. (2011). Marine Spatial Planning: Achieving and Evaluating Integration. ICES Journal of Marine Science 2191-2200 68(10)

Portman, M. E. (2012). Losing Ground: Mediterranean Shoreline Change from an Environmental Justice Perspective. Coastal Management, 40(4), 421-441.

Portman, M. E. (2014). Regulatory capture by default: Offshore exploratory drilling for oil and gas. Energy Policy, 65, 37-47.

Portman, M. E. (2016). Chapter 11 - Current Issues: Coastal Adaptation to Climate Change Environmental Planning for Oceans and Coasts: Methods, Tools, Technologies (pp. 191-210). Switzerland: Springer.

Portman, M. E. (2018). Policy Options for Coastal Protection: Integrating Inland Water Management with Coastal Management for Greater Community Resilience. Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, 144(4), 05018005. doi: doi:10.1061/(ASCE)WR.1943-5452.0000913

Portman, M. E., Duff, J. A., Köppel, J., Reisert, J., & Higgins, M. E. (2009). Offshore Wind Energy Development in the Exclusive Economic Zone: Legal and Policy Supports and Impediments in Germany and the U.S. Energy Policy, 37(9), 3596-3607.

Randolph, J. (2011). Environmental Land Use Planning and Management (2nd ed.). Washington DC: Island Press.

Rick, T. C., & Erlandson, J. M. (2009). Coastal Exploitation. Science, 325(5943), 952-953. doi: 10.1126/science.1178539

Semeoshenkova, V., & Newton, A. (2015). Overview of erosion and beach quality issues in three Southern European countries: Portugal, Spain and Italy. Ocean & Coastal Management, 118, Part A, 12-21. doi:

Technion Marine Plan Integrating Team. (2015). Israel Marine Plan (pp. 59). Haifa, Israel: Technion- Israel Institute of Technology.

Teff-Seker, Y., Eiran, E., & Rubin, A. (in press). Israel’s ‘Turn to the Sea’ and its Effect on Regional Policy. Journal of Israel Affairs.

UN General Assembly. (1982). Convention on the Law of the Sea, 10 December 1982, entered into force 16 November 1994. [accessed 4 January 2019].

Upham, P., Whitmarsh, L., Poortinga, W., Purdam, K., Darnton, A., McLachlan, C., & Devine‐Wright, P. (2009). Public Attitudes to Environmental Change: a selective review of theory and practice (pp. 134). UK.

Zviely, D., Bitan, M., & DiSegni, D. M. (2015). The effect of sea-level rise in the 21st century on marine structures along the Mediterranean coast of Israel: An evaluation of physical damage and adaptation cost. Applied Geography, 57, 154-162. doi:

How to Cite
Portman, M. E. (2019). Detached Islands: Artificial Islands as adaptation challenges in the making. DIE ERDE – Journal of the Geographical Society of Berlin, 150(3), 158-168. Retrieved from