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Seasteading is the concept of creating permanent dwellings at sea, called seasteads, outside the territory claimed by any government. No one has yet created a structure on the high seas that has been recognized as a sovereign state. Proposed structures have included modified cruise ships, refitted oil platforms, and custom-built floating islands.
Proponents say seasteads can "provide the means for rapid innovation in voluntary governance and reverse environmental damage to our oceans ... and foster entrepreneurship." Some critics fear seasteads are designed more as a refuge for the wealthy to avoid taxes or other obligations.
For a dozen years L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology, and his executive leadership became a maritime-based community named the Sea Organization (Sea Org). Beginning in 1967 with a complement of four ships, the Sea Org spent most of its existence on the high seas, visiting ports around the world for refueling and resupply. In 1975 much of these operations were shifted to land-based locations.
Marshall Savage discussed building tethered artificial islands in his 1992 book The Millennial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps, with several color plates illustrating his ideas.
A 1998 essay by Wayne Gramlich attracted the attention of Patri Friedman. The two began working together and posted their first collaborative book online in 2001. Their book explored many aspects of seasteading from waste disposal to flags of convenience. This collaboration led to the creation of the non-profit The Seasteading Institute (TSI) in 2008.
As an intermediate step, the Seasteading Institute has promoted cooperation with an existing nation on prototype floating islands with legal semi-autonomy within the nation's protected territorial waters. On January 13, 2017, the Seasteading Institute signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with French Polynesia to create the first semi-autonomous "seazone" for a prototype, but later that year political changes driven by the French Polynesia presidential election led to the indefinite postponement of the project. French Polynesia formally backed out of the project and permanently cut ties with Seasteading on March 14, 2018.
The first single-family seastead was launched near Phuket, Thailand by Ocean Builders in March 2019. Two months later, the Thai Navy claimed the seastead was a threat to Thai sovereignty. As of 2019, Ocean Builders says it will be building again in Panama, with the support of government officials.
In April 2019, the concept of floating cities as a way to cope with rising oceans was included in a presentation by the United Nations program UN-Habitat. As presented, they would be limited to sheltered waters.
The Seasteading Institute
On April 15, 2008, Wayne Gramlich and Patri Friedman founded the 501(c)(3) non-profit The Seasteading Institute (TSI), an organization formed to facilitate the establishment of autonomous, mobile communities on seaborne platforms operating in international waters.
Friedman and Gramlich noted that according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a country's Exclusive Economic Zone extends 200 nautical miles (370 km) from shore. Beyond that boundary lie the high seas, which are not subject to the laws of any sovereign state other than the flag under which a ship sails. They proposed that a seastead could take advantage of the absence of laws and regulations outside the sovereignty of nations to experiment with new governance systems, and allow the citizens of existing governments to exit more easily.
The project picked up mainstream exposure after PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel donated $500,000 in initial seed capital (followed by subsequent contributions). He also spoke out on behalf of its viability in his essay "The Education of a Libertarian". TSI received widespread media attention.
In January 2009, the Seasteading Institute patented a design for a 200-person resort seastead, ClubStead, about a city block in size, produced by consultancy firm Marine Innovation & Technology. The ClubStead design marked the first major engineering analysis in the seasteading movement. In July 2009, Friedman launched Ephemerisle, intended to be a week-long event that modeled seasteading in the Pacific Ocean. Ephemerisle was held on a number of watercraft and makeshift floating platforms in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Friedman abandoned the project the next year, but Ephemerisle continued as an annual event with a decentralized organizational structure.
The Floating City Project
In the spring of 2013, TSI launched The Floating City Project. The project proposed to locate a floating city within the territorial waters of an existing nation, rather than the open ocean. TSI claimed that doing so would have several advantages by placing it within the international legal framework and making it easier to engineer and easier for people and equipment to reach. In October 2013, the Institute raised $27,082 from 291 funders in a crowdfunding campaign TSI used the funds to hire the Dutch marine engineering firm DeltaSync to write an engineering study for The Floating City Project.
In September 2016 the Seasteading Institute met with officials in French Polynesia to discuss building a prototype seastead in a sheltered lagoon. On January 13, 2017, French Polynesia Minister of Housing Jean-Christophe Bouissou signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with TSI to create the first semi-autonomous "seazone". TSI spun off a for-profit company called "Blue Frontiers", which will build and operate a prototype seastead in the zone. On March 3, 2018, French Polynesia government said the agreement was "not a legal document" and had expired at the end of 2017. No action has been announced since.
The Seasteading Institute held its first conference in Burlingame, California, October 10, 2008. Forty-five people from nine countries attended. The second Seasteading conference was significantly larger, and held in San Francisco, California, September 28–30, 2009. The third Seasteading conference took place May 31 – June 2, 2012.
Jounieh Floating Island project (JFIP)
A proposal to build a "floating island" with a luxury hotel in Jounieh north of the Lebanese capital Beirut, was stalled as of 2015 because of concerns from local officials about environmental and regulatory matters.
Blueseed was a company aiming to float a ship near Silicon Valley to serve as a visa-free startup community and entrepreneurial incubator. Blueseed founders Max Marty and Dario Mutabdzija met when both were employees of The Seasteading Institute. The project planned to offer living and office space, high-speed Internet connectivity, and regular ferry service to the mainland but as of 2014 the project was "on hold".
Historical predecessors and inspirations for seasteading include:
- Oil platforms.
- The Principality of Sealand, a micronation formed on a decommissioned sea fort near Suffolk, England.
- Smaller floating islands in protected waters, such as Richart Sowa's Spiral Island
- Floating communities, such as the Uru people on Lake Titicaca, the Tanka people in Aberdeen, Hong Kong, and the Makoko in Lagos, Nigeria.
- The non-profit Women on Waves, which operates hospital ships that allow access to abortions for women in countries where abortions are subject to strict laws
- The Republic of Rose Island, a short-lived micronation on a man-made platform in the Adriatic Sea, 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) off the coast of the province of Rimini, Italy.
- Pirate radio stations anchored in international waters, broadcasting to listeners on shore.
Cruise ships are a proven technology, and address most of the challenges of living at sea for extended periods of time. However, they're typically optimized for travel and short-term stay, not for permanent residence in a single location.
Platform designs based on spar buoys, similar to oil platforms. In this design, the platforms rest on spars in the shape of floating dumbbells, with the living area high above sea level. Building on spars in this fashion reduces the influence of wave action on the structure.
There are numerous seastead designs based around interlocking modules made of reinforced concrete. Reinforced concrete is used for floating docks, oil platforms, dams, and other marine structures.
- The Floating City Project / Blue Frontiers.
- Evolo Oceanscraper.
- AT Design Office floating city concept.
- Freedom Haven
A single, monolithic structure that is not intended to be expanded or connected to other modules.
Criticisms have been leveled at both the practicality and desirability of seasteading.
On a logistical level, without access to culture, travel, restaurants, shopping, and other amenities, seasteads could be too remote and too uncomfortable to be attractive to potential long-term residents. Building seasteads to withstand the rigors of the open ocean may prove uneconomical.
Seastead structures may blight ocean views, their industry or farming may deplete their environments, and their waste may pollute surrounding waters. Some critics believe that seasteads will exploit both residents and the nearby population. Others fear that seasteads will mainly allow wealthy individuals to escape taxes, or to harm mainstream society by ignoring other financial, environmental, and labor regulations.
In popular culture
Seasteading has been imagined many times in novels, from Jules Verne's 1895 science-fiction book Propeller Island (L'Île à hélice) about an artificial island designed to travel the waters of the Pacific Ocean, and to the 2003 novel The Scar, which featured a floating city named Armada. It has been a central concept in some movies, notably Waterworld (1995) and in TV series such as Stargate Atlantis, which had a complete floating city. It is a common setting in video games, forming the premise of the Bioshock series, Brink, and Call of Duty: Black Ops II; and in anime, such as Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet which takes place mainly on a traveling city made of an interconnected fleet of ocean ships.
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