January 16, 2018
This is the Founders Series of the Blue Frontiers podcast. Today we have Marc Collins, Managing Director and co-founder of Blue Frontiers. Marc is the Tahitian visionary who saw how seasteading could continue the Polynesian tradition of ocean innovation and seafaring, and how floating islands could help mitigate the damages of sea level change. This is the unique perspective the world needs to hear, and you’re in for a treat.
Marc Collins is one of the five founding members and managing directors of Blue Frontiers, a company pioneering a project in French Polynesia to develop floating islands, or Seasteads. Marc has lived in many parts of the world including Tahiti for the last 25 years. He has previously worked in the Tahitian government and is considered one of the co-founders in the Blue Frontier movement.
Motivation and Process [01:00]
Marc digs into the roots of the Seasteading project and discusses how his personal life, leading up to the point of meeting Peter Thiel and other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, served as the backbone to stepping into a project like this.
When Peter Thiel co-founded the institute - I thought that it’s really interesting and innovative, it’s almost like humanities next step – [01:25]
When asked about the process and the connection between Blue Frontiers and the government of French Polynesia, Marc expresses that government acceptance, trust, and support has been very important in moving the project forward. However, as co-founder of the project as well as a native French Polynesian, he often must juggle many different responsibilities without the bias of both citizen and executive.
Climate Threats and Marc’s worries [07:13]
Marc talks about the recent growth of awareness about climate change – and how the awareness of the topic has finally come to the forefront.
We’re basically the smallest contributors to sea level rise but are at the front lines of it. But we no longer want to just submit to suffering from the effects that are not of our making.’” [09:07]
Marc uses traditional fishing villages as an example to the disruption of patterns of life and explains that a mere few feet of sea rise will contaminate fresh water and force people to leave the islands. They then discuss a French study that reveals the islands which will be most impacted islands in the world: French Polynesia and New Caledonia (One meter change by 2100 and the submergence of 30% islands of French Polynesian islands.)
Threats and Geographical Layout of The Pacific [14:04]
Marc describes the topography and geology of the different types of islands in the archipelago which were birthed out of solidified volcanic eruptions. He explains that many people, his brother included, are living precariously close to danger. He alludes to a neighboring country which is entirely low-line atolls that will be wiped out completely without proper preparation.
If you don't have fresh water on these islands, the cost of energy to desalinate the water would only be available to a five-star resort. They can afford it; they have a business model that can support it (16:30)
Nathalie and Marc then discuss how difficult, and perhaps impossible, sea level change is to remedy given that it occurs so slowly, over a long period of time, and through a ripple effect of enormous forces. In light of this, Marc feels that French Polynesia will continue in its historic ability to adapt with nature.
For me, our project is about hope. It’s about saying - let’s actively, proactively work on something that gives us hope and find some sort of solution. [17:45]
Environmental and Societal Issues [18:20]
If the idea is to create a self-sustaining floating island – with 100% renewable energy, 100% of water production from the lagoon water, rain catchments, from all sorts of strategies such as wastewater treatment and even solid waste treatment — works, then it would work for a normal island, as well [19:00]
They discuss the many prominent and international companies which arrived in French Polynesia and are helping to provide solutions that can be of use to the project. Historically however though, remote islands are technologically underserved and tend to fall into long periods of consistency but little progress.
“I think that a country that doesn’t solve the issue of brain drain where the best and the brightest people are leaving their country is a country in decline. You have to find projects that are innovative enough, that require this sort of thinking to bring them back.
So one of the main contributors for me personally is - can this project bring back some top thinking, Polynesian thinking, people to the country? [22:50]
They then discuss a few of the reason in which this project can be transformative for not just French Polynesian society, but for the entire global culture. For him, the most important change is reversing the aforementioned brain drain of young intellectuals whom leave the country an do not return. He then continues to discuss the potential disruption of governance systems:
What’s interesting is that the governance of these Floating Islands would be done by the people who actually live there.
I think this can be very innovative and I think that’s he main attraction - governance and societal changes.[24:30]
Living on the first floating islands and Translating cultural diversity. (24:45)
Marc explains that he will not only live on one of these islands immediately, he will also bring his son to live as one of the youngest people on the island. Marc’s theory behind the reason for Pacific Islanders’ happiness is rooted in nature:
“what you see in French Polynesian and Polynesian people is the result of abundance.
If the nature is so bountiful and the nature cares of you - maybe, you have a more open heart, maybe you are more open to foreigners and to sharing. (29:30)
The climate, terrain, and natural forces are temperate as well as provide a sufficient means for survival and Marc believes this abundance has become embedded deep in the fibers of the Polynesian peoples. He also explains why the artistic and writing scene was so vibrant on such a small and isolated island.
“Notre histoire est une histoire d'amour – Our history is a history of love.” [31:10]
They speak on the many traditional skills – navigation, arts, writing, fishing, agricultural – which have pervaded in Polynesian culture over the years and have spawned many leaders who have risen from within the people. He describes each of them as ceaselessly loyal and humble:
“Humility means that no matter what the status of the person is and usually the higher the status - the humbler they are.” [33:40]
He believes that this humility comes from the aforementioned contact with nature and from the mutual respect between the land planet and its people. He elaborates that, in an organic environment, nature has the power to destroy anything on a whim, when a culture recognizes that it can be reach true humility.