Seasteading: Come for the Algae Bacon, Stay for the Freedom


Joe Quirk is the president of the Seasteading Institute, which hopes to see the world’s oceans settled with hundreds of environmentally restorative floating cities. The first steps in that process are currently underway.

“We’re going to start very small with sustainable floating islands in the protected lagoon of Tahiti, for about 250 people,” Quirk says in Episode 289 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “We hope to have this available by 2020.”

Floating cities of the future would feature vast underwater algae farms that would provide a healthy food source for residents. Quirk says that algae can be much more appetizing than most people realize.

“Somebody discovered that if you smoke dulse, it tastes like bacon,” he says. “One of the guys that was featured on Iron Chef serves it in his restaurants.”

Eventually the Seasteading Institute hopes to develop floating platforms for individual families, which would make it easy to leave one seastead and join another. Hopefully that sort of freedom would force seasteads to compete over who can treat their residents the best. “The idea is to vote with your house,” Quirk says.

Seasteading has often been a topic of conversation in Silicon Valley, but that talk has waned in recent years. But Quirk believes that the momentum behind seasteading is unstoppable, with more and more of the necessary technologies finally coming online, and that the main obstacle at this point is just overcoming sensationalized claims about seasteaders themselves.

“I feel the greatest threat to seasteading is political backlash,” he says. “There’s such a misperception that it’s about ‘Dr. Evil billionaires going out there to experiment on children and creating evil islands of selfishness,’ and we’re constantly battling against that perception.”

Listen to our complete interview with Joe Quirk in Episode 289 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Joe Quirk on OTEC:

“Once you’re on the high seas you can push forward one of my favorite technologies, which is Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion—or OTEC—which is a proven green technology that basically uses the ocean as a solar panel. So at the surface of the tropical oceans where seasteading is starting, the water is very warm. The sun really warms it, especially near the equator, but a hundred meters down it’s very cold, and if you have a thousand-meter pipe going down, you have a huge temperature difference, and this can run a gigantic turbine that can produce a tremendous amount of electricity. The technology was proven to work during the Carter administration, and several island nations around the world are already pushing forward OTEC plants. The Bahamas last I heard is working on two.”

Joe Quirk on the media:

“Not all media is like [Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy], where you just have a conversation and then I’m criticized for what I actually say. With most mainstream media—or ‘lamestream media,’ as I call it—someone would go through this long conversation we have, where I’m speaking from my heart, as transparently as possible, and you would take out the section that makes me sound bad, or makes it sound like there has to be conflict, and you would feature that up front in your piece, and then that would come to be the statement I would answer to. And this has just happened over and over with seasteaders. You think that the journalist is on your side, but we get misrepresented often. So our only choice was to write this book and tell a bigger, better, more exciting story.”

Joe Quirk on Ephemerisle:

“A reality TV show got in touch with the Seasteading Institute and got very interested in showing the conflicts that occur between people trying to build a new society that floats. They scouted out Ephemerisle and became discouraged, because everybody was getting along—because you can take your house and float somewhere else. So they decided not to do Ephemerisle, and they basically imitated Ephemerisle, and went back to the UK, and tried to set up a TV show on several forts—old, abandoned military forts on the water—that are sort of set on land, where people are forced to live together. So basically they removed the dynamics of seasteading, which is if you don’t get along with people, you can simply take your house and go float elsewhere.”

Joe Quirk on floating hospitals:

“There are companies in the US that are already willing to pay their employees to fly to the Cayman Islands—and take a month-long vacation, with a butler, with concierge service—and they’ll pay them an extra few thousand dollars for their troubles, because all that put together is cheaper than just getting them a knee replacement operation in the United States. One of the most interesting ‘aquapreneuers’ is a guy who uses Devi Shetty as an example of islands just off the coast of various countries where you can set up a unique jurisdiction and provide better, cheaper, faster health care. And some time after I became enthralled with this idea and decided to feature Devi Shetty in the book. … So I’m saying this famous humanitarian heart surgeon is already a seasteader, and I wish he would get in touch with us.”

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