In the News from Panama

Designing New Islands: The Story of Ocean Reef, Part II

In 2008, developer Grupo Los Pueblos was ready to move forward on the plan nobody thought was possible.

Their vision was to create a new community out of the water, building two islands totaling 18 hectares in Panama Bay. The new development would offer an island lifestyle minutes from the heart of the city, including the city’s largest yacht club.

But first, a team of global engineers, scientists, geologists, oceanographers, and assorted other experts would need to come together to determine exactly how to make this dream a reality. Building any project involves unexpected events and unknowns; building in the middle of the ocean presented a completely different level of risk and uncertainty for a developer.

Detailed studies would need to be conducted to determine the proper location and size of the islands. What type of rock and sand would be used to build the islands? How would the island best blend with the local eco-system?

Eventually, a dream team of top experts in dredging and land reclamation was assembled to examine the details of how to make the islands work. Members of the team brought very specific expertise to the challenge. Delft Hydraulics (Deltares), a company with a global reputation for studying wave modeling and ocean behavior, was brought in to analyze the coastal conditions including wave sizes, currents, and storms in the Pacific Ocean. Studies considered the intensity of the winds, as well as the possible impact on the quality of water.

URS Corporation, a leading provider of engineering, construction, and technical services, helped define what was feasible to build and how the project could be constructed.

Every element needed to be analyzed and considered in the context of the integrity of the islands and their impact on the environment. Different types of sand and rock were examined to avoid sedimentation, coastline erosion, and the decline in water quality.


The design of the breakwater was especially important, creating a safe environment for the islands and the marina. The eventual design of the breakwater would include multiple layers of different rock sizes designed to dissipate and absorb the energy of the waves.

The final shape of the Islands was developed based on morphological and hydrodynamic modeling studies carried out by Delft Hydraulics, “to ensure the integrity of the Islands and the sea’s physical and chemical components.” The company that designed the shape and geometry of the islands had worked on more than 1,100 successful projects in 112 countries around the world since 1927, GLP’s book on the history of the project notes. 

As more information became available and the studies were complete, Royal Boskalis Westminster, one of the world’s leading dredging companies, was hired to take the project to the next level. Finally, after all the research and tests, the developers were ready to start work on making the islands a reality.

How did they create two islands in the middle of Panama Bay? Stay tuned for Part 3 of The Story of Ocean Reef.

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