Can Floating Islands Combat Climate Change?
A Conversation with Seaphia Founder & CEO Dr. Nathalie Mezza-Garcia
Dr. Nathalie Mezza-Garcia is the CEO of Seaphia, a consultancy and business development company for floating and maritime Special Economic Zones, or SeaZones. Dr. Mezza-Garcia completed her PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Warwick in 2020, researching complex governance in SeaZones and the Floating Island Project in French Polynesia.
Dr. Nathalie Mezza-Garcia has been interested in complex political systems since she was a young teenager. Growing up in Barranquilla, Colombia, her biggest fascination was painting. “When I think of my upbringing, I think colors,” she said. As she studied Visual Arts at university, she realized that natural shapes and forms fit together in ways that were very different from the organizational structures of political systems.
When Dr. Mezza-Garcia then changed to a Political Science and Governance degree at Universidad del Rosario, she became frustrated with representative democracies that she was analyzing. “The way our governments are run, we are faced with bottleneck decision-making,” she said. “I realized that if we wanted to improve our government systems, one method would be to change our relationship with the territory.”
Years later, Dr. Mezza-Garcia began to focus her governance research on seasteading, or the creation of permanent, autonomous communities on the water.
In 2016, the U.S.-based Seasteading Institute signed an agreement with French Polynesia to construct a floating islands project near the island of Tahiti. As Dr. Mezza-Garcia had just begun her PhD candidacy, the project was an excellent opportunity for hands-on research and experience.
After being accepted to present her research on SeaZones at a conference about the project, Dr. Mezza-Garcia served as a communications volunteer for eight months. She was then hired as the project’s International Spokesperson.
While she gained experience and expanded her network to other professionals in the SeaZones industry, the project collapsed in 2018 due to backlash from local residents, who did not believe that it would benefit them directly, according to Dr. Mezza-Garcia. “It was clear to me how, for these projects to succeed, they have to directly involve and benefit the local community even if investment is international.”
After submitting her PhD thesis, Dr. Mezza-Garcia decided to start Seaphia. “I believe that building something can have more impact than academic programs,” she said. “I created Seaphia to cater to both the international and local markets, and to bring maritime SeaZones to Latin America.”
Dr. Mezza-Garcia's company seeks to involve and appeal to local communities in order to create a sustainable economy for the SeaZones. “Instead of foreign agents starting these territories in foreign places for foreigners, local and foreign companies should build zones for local and international people,” she said. “It is better if the developers know the native culture and what would be an appealing environment for them.” For instance, Dr. Mezza-Garcia suggested that future SeaZones should offer labs to facilitate scientific maritime research.
According to Dr. Mezza-Garcia, Seaphia’s floating island projects are a significantly better alternative to projects like the Dubai islands, which have used tons of sand and concrete to construct beautiful but unsustainable islands.
These permanent and immovable projects would almost certainly damage the surrounding environment, Dr. Mezza-Garcia said. “Our floating system is movable, and thus more sustainable. If we see that the islands are negatively affecting the environment, we can move the land much more easily with simple technology like tug boats.”
In fact, the artificial floating islands could be a creative solution to the current climate crisis.
As sea levels rise across the world, “the business appeal of these floating islands becomes more evident,” Dr. Mezza-Garcia said. She noted that in Kiribati, a country in Oceania made up of islands with little elevation, the government has already tried to invest in floating island projects.
The marine technology essential to the construction and economy of floating special economic zones provides an opportunity to “start working on a future that is more in harmony with nature,” Dr. Mezza-Garcia said. “Events such as the coronavirus pandemic are clear evidence that our systems like food and supply chains are not sustainable.
Climate change will not have a vaccine to stop it, so the pandemic has shown how important it is to design, implement, and build urban systems that are environmentally friendly and sustainable.” She added, “Green, marine technologies like floating special economic zones are part of the right path forward, and they provide the regulatory framework to push for more of this technology to be developed. My ultimate goal with Seaphia and my other pursuits is to turn Barranquilla and this world into a blue, clean technology hub.”
Written by Michael Ding
Edited by Alexander Fleiss, Calvin Ma, Gihyen Eom, Vishal Dhileepan, Pranshu Gupta, Antonella Dec-Prat & Jeremy Knopp
The Seasteading Institute
Gabriel Scheare, Luke & Lourdes Crowley, and Patrick White (Roark 3D)