10 Mar 2017

The floating future of French Polynesia

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:23 pm on 10 March 2017

A new construction project in French Polynesia aims to create floating cities as a refuge for those facing political and environmental challenges.

The Seasteading Institute wants to build a floating city in the Pacific.

The Seasteading Institute wants to build a floating city in the Pacific. Photo: Supplied / The Seasteading Institute

For five years, the Seasteading Institute has been researching how to make the permanent cities in the South Pacific.

Earlier this year the French Polynesian government signed an agreement with the institute to allow the Floating Island Project to go ahead.

The project will now have its own governing framework and economic zone.

Seasteading Institute executive director Randolph Hencken told RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan they couldn’t be more excited.

“The French Polynesians made a really bold move in inviting us in.”

Hencken says the non-profit institute wants to develop floating islands with their own ruling structure.

“Rules matter and people are constrained by the rules they live under.

“And the earth is changing on us and we’re threatened by rising sea levels.”

He says nearly half the planet lives under the control of authoritarian dictatorship

The project aims to create places where people can ‘try things a little more peacefully’.

The recent deal with French Polynesia will be subject to their rules, but Hencken says the long term goal is to have floating cities with sovereign states.

“We absolutely would like to see as many people out, who are free to experiment with a government of their choosing.

“What we’re doing in French Polynesia is our first foray in that direction.”

Hencken says French Polynesia stands to gain economic and environmental resilience from the deal, while the project needs a place to call home.

“It’s a good match.”

Hencken says the island will consist of concrete barges, but if cost wasn’t a factor he would prefer some type of carbon fibre.

“All the technologies already exist for us to be successful, it’s just how do we integrate them.”

A nexus of what’s affordable, what’s practical and what’s sustainable will be key.

“The water that will put out of the ocean, we’re not going to be discharging our wastewater back into the ocean.”

Wave energy, solar energy and wind energy is also be considered for the island.

“In many ways, we’re thinking on this planet ship earth, how do we have a solution for autonomous living that may someday be suitable for solutions in living in outer space?”

Construction of the islands is expected to begin this time next year, with the first island floating by 2020.

“We plan just to start with a pilot project of two or three floating islands, and when they prove successful we hope to rapidly expand.”

The aim is to eventually create affordable floating islands so they can be mass produced and sent to areas where people may need a place to escape to.

Hencken says the floating islands could be constructed near other Pacific atolls and islands in the future.