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Business  10, Jul 2014

Seasteading has enormous potential in Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan

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The Director of Communications at the Seasteading Institute Joe Quirk provides insights into the possibilities of seasteading and how Asia Pacific can benefit from it

Seasteading is the creation of autonomous communities out at sea. A practice pioneered by the Tanka boat people of Fujian, China since 700 AD, it has evolved and may eventually become a necessity in the future. With the global rise in sea levels caused by the polar caps melting, and with many island communities, from Kiribatic in the Pacific Ocean to the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, what was once a novelty is poised to be the need of the hour.

Pioneering the creation of seasteads is the US-based Seasteading Institute. Sponsored by Paypal Co-founder Peter Thiel, it is seeking a country willing to host its Floating City Project. Designed as an integrated project hosting businesses, living space and aquaculture facilities, it has enormous potential to benefit states such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan, which have limited land and densely-packed populations.

Joe Quirk, the Director of Communications at the Seasteading Institute (SI) gave us the lowdown on seasteading and shared its relevance to Asia Pacific.

Quirk has an impressive background as a writer, communicator and author, having served as a Consultant with Sribd and various other media firms.

An excerpt from the chat:

What are the problems that seasteading can address?
The most important factor to the welfare of our families is not our talents or education, but our nation of origin. Seasteaders don’t think 193 national governments represent the diversity of ideas that seven billion people have produced. We want to create a “Silicon Valley of the Sea” where new experiments in governance could be attempted with minimal risk and maximum benefit to the world. Seasteaders ask people to not argue about particular political problems, but to create many new experiments in governance, discovering solutions we haven’t thought of yet.

If the Singapore or Hong Kong governments approached the Seasteading Institute, what would be the costs involved, the benefits, and the timeline?
Creating new nations always involves collaboration with old nations. Right now we are negotiating with coastal countries to potentially host our Floating City Project within their territorial waters, while granting the floating city some measure of political autonomy. Singapore and Hong Kong have been global leaders in demonstrating that new island nations can set an example that changes the world. Without the astonishing examples set by Singapore and Hong Kong, the message of seasteading might not have become so popular.

Who are the major investors and backers of SI and other seasteading projects?
Our non-profit is supported entirely by donations from over a thousand donors and hundreds of volunteers. Almost half of all donors who contributed to the Floating City Project make less than US$50,000 per year. The groundswell of international support has allowed us to commission DeltaSync, the premier aquatic engineering firm in the world, to design an aesthetically pleasing seastead. DeltaSync’s design for our Floating City Project can be accessed on our web site.

What is required to make seasteading a mainstream practice, rather than one perceived as a libertarian niche?
The steps to seasteading are already happening on several continents simultaneously. For instance, Shell’s Prelude is larger than the Empire State Building, and it will be floating 200 kilometers off the shore of Australia for up to 25 years. The Prelude will be the first of many similar projects in Asia-Pacific.

People appear to mean different things when they say “libertarian” with regard to seasteading. They’re often referring to Peter Thiel, who co-founded the Seasteading Institute. If by libertarian you mean working to empower individuals, the technology of seasteading is as libertarian as founding PayPal or investing in Facebook. Seasteaders plan to provide the technology to empower anyone to start their own government on the sea, and we hope to see hundreds of startup governments some day.

Also Read: Do you see seasteading as the next big thing?

Where are the ideal locations in Asia Pacific for establishing a seastead?
Koen Olthuis is the founder of Waterstudio.nl. He designs floating mosques, apartment houses, and stadiums. In his recent Inhabitat Interview, he said, “People have now been calling me from Tokyo, Ho Chi Min City, Bombay, Budapest.”  I was delighted to hear this. The Asian nation most frequently mentioned by seasteaders is Singapore, who hosted the 2010 Summer Youth Olympics on the world’s largest floating football field, The Float at Marina Bay.

Singapore is also planning the world’s largest floating solar farm. Singaporeans are accustomed to the idea of creating more land, and Singapore is founded on the idea of a new island experiment in governance, and look how spectacularly it paid off.

What would be the benefit of a seastead to a startup ecosystem and entrepreneurial activity in general?
No one knew a system like Singapore’s could work until it was tried. No one suspected that Hong Kong would create so much wealth in such a short time, until it was tried. Taiwan’s growth in prosperity was unimaginable until it happened. The world is bursting with new ideas, and yet new ideas in governance cannot be tried, because all land is claimed by just a few governments.

We want to empower aquapreneurs (aquatic entrepreneurs) to try their own start-up societies. Maybe we’ll create societies as unique as those in the Caribbean, Cayman, Hawaiian, or Polynesian islands. Most people have little appreciation of the power of small island nations to set an example that changes the policies of larger old nations.

What is the most viable platform design so far for making a seastead?
The Dutch aquatic engineering firms DeltaSync and Waterstudio have co-designed the foundation for floating cities. It’s a buoyant foam slab, encased in solid concrete. Right now floating homes and a floating pavilion are in use in Rotterdam, Holland. Our Floating City Project will use the same material. The technology for building floating structures in shallow territorial waters is available. The Seasteading Institute is researching the engineering possibilities for establishing communities in deeper water.

The next great engineering challenge is to design a floating structure that will remain stable on the high seas. The trick will probably involve creating a foundation that goes very deep below the water. Sarly Adre bin Sarkum of Malaysia proposed the Water-Scraper, a sort of upside-down skyscraper. Imagine looking out your apartment window at a wild ocean aquarium.

If that seems unrealistic, consider that the FLIP ship has been operational since 1962, and it sits in the oceans “as stable as a fencepost”. People can read about how it works in Popular Mechanics. Robert Ballard, discoverer of the RMSTitanic, wants to set up four FLIPs, put a platform on top of them, and build a city. You could build stories high above the water and deep below the water.  With enough weight and depth, it would become stable in high seas.

Explain the Blue Revolution and how Asia-Pacific would benefit from it.
Many seasteaders have used the term “blue revolution” to evoke the green revolution of Norman Borlaug, the plant geneticist from Iowa who’s credited with saving over a billion lives. Ricardo Radulovich with his Sea Gardens Project, Patrick Takahashi with his Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) initiatives, and DeltaSync with their floating eco-farms, have each independently coined the term “blue revolution”. I talked to each of them before any of them had heard of each other and found they’d coined the term independently. The role of  the Seasteading Institute is to organise and connect aquatic entrepreneurs, who all see the same solution to global challenges, letting them know they’re already part of a global community.

Also Read: Startups must embrace Blue Ocean strategy

Shiwen Yap

Shiwen Yap

Shiwen is passionate about exploring science, technology and entrepreneurship ideas and is an avid advocate of open source technologies and methodologies.

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