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Dubai Rainforest gets eco alarm bells ringing.

The artificial jungle to be located within a massive dome inside Damac's AKOYA Oxygen development will consume a lot of water, warns expert.

Dubai - Even for a city known to strive for the biggest and the best, growing a rainforest in the desert poses a unique challenge to nature. But if things proceed as planned, Dubai will be able to add "rainforest" to its list of attractions -- just in time for the 2020 World Expo. But even before work begins, some environmentalists are voicing concerns.

The jungle -- which is to be located within a massive dome inside Damac's 55 million square-foot AKOYA Oxygen development -- will be home to many species of tropical flora and fauna and will include zip wires for visitors to explore the forest canopy, as well as a 'rainforest spa'.

The Dubai Rainforest, which Damac has billed "an educational and cultural dome", will be the first project of its kind within a larger residential community. "We are currently working with experts in the field to ensure that the project is true to life, while ensuring the highest standards of environmental protection," said Damac senior vice president Neill McLoughlin.

McLoughlin said that the rainforest's plants and animals "will be cared for by experts utilising the most environmentally-friendly practices in the market today".

In a statement, Damac managing director Ziar El Chaar said the rainforest is a "perfect fit" for the environmentally-friendly AKOYA Oxygen property. "The Dubai rainforest will fit perfectly into the ethos of AKOYA Oxygen -- the greenest community in Dubai -- and provide a new space for educational and cultural events which will raise awareness of this exciting ecosystem," he said.

But some environmentalists are expressing concerns that the project will be unsustainable in the long run. Rhett Butler, an internationally recognised conservationist, author and co-founder of Tropical Conservation Science journal, said building a working rainforest will be a formidable job.

"Building even a semi-functional rainforest is a daunting task," he said. "The project is more likely going to be more like a garden then an ecologically viable forest.

"By definition, rainforests are very wet, so unless it is a closed loop system, there's a danger that this project will consume a lot of water. In a severely water-constrained environment like Dubai, that is potentially very wasteful."

Butler said most rainforests have an ambient temperature of between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius, which means that some sort of cooling system will have to be in place during Dubai's scalding summer months.

As for the animals that Damac plans to include within the property, Butler urged the developers to be very selective about which species they introduce.

"There are certainly some animals that would fare better than others in such an artificial environment," he said. "The planners would be wise to pay attention to the needs of each species and take care not to include those that require large ranges or fare poorly in captivity."

Despite his concerns about the project's long-term sustainability, Butler said the project may help create global interest in preserving the world's rapidly shrinking rainforests. "With the right messaging and presentation, the artificial rainforest could raise awareness and funds to protect real rainforests, which continue to be highly endangered," he said.

A recent analysis of satellite data conducted by researchers from the University of Maryland and the American Geophysical Union found that the rate of deforestation increased by 62 per cent between 1990 and 2010.

"More and more of this loss is being driven by consumption in places like Dubai and the West," Butler said. "Rainforests are being chopped down to produce commodities like palm oil, paper, timber and meat.

"If this thing is going to be built, it would be great to see the developers utilise technologies that minimise impact and offer dividends beyond the walls of the facility. This could potentially transform the project from another tourist boondoggle into an innovation lab for more sustainable living."

For example, Butler said, he believes the project presents an excellent opportunity to showcase zero-energy and zero-water footprint practices to the public through the use of solar power, water recycling and waste capture technology. -bernd@khaleejtimes.com

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Publication:Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Mar 3, 2015
Words:704
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