15 February 2006

Holiday resort on artificial island planned off Portuguese coast

I realize that this does not really relate to scuba diving, but it is indeed fascinating to know what lengths people will go to, to recreate another piece of paradise. Hopefully a few good dive spots will be made too!

A Dutch businessman wants to build Europe's first holiday resort on an artificial island off Portugal, in a project that would cost €1,5 billion and include a casino and underwater hotel.

The 100-hectare island would be built about 300 metres off the coast of the Vale de Lobo resort in the Algarve tourist area and be connected to the mainland with an underwater tunnel, businessman Sander van Gelder said.

Van Gelder said the initial reaction from Portuguese authorities had been positive as the government was keen on original, new tourist projects.

"This exciting project would be one of the most innovative to be undertaken in the world," van Gelder said in written responses to questions.

"It could generate an increase in tourism and thus employment, as well as protecting the Algarve's beaches, to ensure that they continue to contribute to the region's tourism-based economy."

In 2003 tourism made up about 45 percent of the Algarve region's economy. Portugal was the world's 16th tourist spot in 2003, with 11,7 million visitors, making up eight percent of its total economy.

The island would also have an 18-hole golf course, beach, harbour, heliport and between 700 and 1 000 holiday homes.

Van Gelder said the project could actually be good for the environment by blocking erosion of the beaches and cliffs along the mainland's coast.

However, Helder Spinola, president of the Quercus environmental group, said any such plan needs to first carry out a study of the environmental impact.

"We need to see the environmental impact on the maritime ecosystems, this would have a very big environmental footprint."

Van Gelder, who is chairman of the Vale de Lobo Group of Companies, is planning to restore the beaches along the resort with 400 000 cubic metres of sand in March because of erosion. An island in front of the beaches could be a permanent solution to end erosion.

Dutch dredging group Koninklijke Boskalis Westminster NV would oversee the building of the island. The water is about 12 metres deep, Van Gelder said.

The next step is to present the plan to the government. "The models will show the action of the waves and tides and how the island will protect the coastline from erosion," Van Gelder said.

At high season, the beaches at Vale de Lobo - which includes a golf course and holiday homes - draws about 5 000 visitors a day and Van Gelder would expect the island to attract at least the same number.

The island would be built on an underwater plateau and draws on similar examples of artificial islands in the Middle East, Australia and the Caribbean.

Source: www.int.iol.co.za


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