By John Defterios CNN
Situated at the heart of Southeast Asia, Singapore is one of the most densely populated countries on the planet. More than 5 million people are crammed into this bustling city-state with an area of just 276 square miles. The squeeze is so tight there's little room left to take advantage of the surrounding natural beauty. But one developer wants to tap into the tourism market by singling out the nearby Riau Archipelago to host "Funtasy Island," the world's largest eco-resort. The $240 million development, currently in construction, will stretch out over a cluster of six islands covering almost 3.3 million square meters (35 million square feet). While the archipelago lies just 16 kilometers (9 miles) off the coast of Singapore, the area is actually part of and administered by neighboring Indonesia. Crystal clear water, coral reefs and thousands of mangrove trees provide the stunning backdrop to marinas, villas, luxury bungalows and hotel accommodation. It's already an impressive site but the "property is just a start," said Funtasy Island Pte Director, Michael Yong. Eco-tourism Roughly 70% of the islands will be preserved in their natural state -- part of the developer's commitment to creating a viable eco-park. "Without that 70% of the natural attractions, our island development will be just like any other or another real estate development," Yong continued. Nature trails and aquaculture tours will allow visitors to enjoy Riau's natural beauty while the short boat ride to Singapore keeps popular attractions like Universal Studios and Marina Bay Sands close. But being green also means development plans have had to be stringently checked and monitored. Caps have been set on future visitors, buildings have been relocated from where they were originally slated for and the overall number of units has been paired back. According to Syarief Santoso, director of WOW Design Studio, such amendments were necessary to maintain authenticity. "It has to feel like we are blend with the nature," Santoso said. "We don't want to change that, we want to blend into this environment and make everything balanced, everything synchronized." Foreign ownership The average cost per square meter of property comes in at about $5,000. If that sounds like a deal for an over-the-water villa a short stroll from a powdery white beach, there's a reason. In line with Indonesian property law, foreign investors can't buy their piece of paradise here, only lease it for set terms. "We are actually selling the lease of the building," Yong explained. "Every 25 years we do an extension for 20 years, every 20 years we do another renewal." The developers say many investors are undeterred. More than 500 homes have sold to date, mostly to buyers from Singapore, Malaysia and China. In total over 1,200 holiday villas and apartments will be needed to house the one million tourists expected each year. With Funtasy Island set to welcome its first guests in late 2015, there's not long left to ensure everything is in place to meet that target.