Permanent floating communities are possible climate change answer

Rising sea levels have Pacific island nations thinking about alternative ways to house their people, and there's a global movement that says it has an answer.

The movement is called 'sea steading', a man-made floating community that sets its own laws and is self-sustaining, and the first one could be built on our Pacific doorstep in French Polynesia.

It's a way of coping with rising sea levels, an issue for Pacific islands like Kiribati, and one the Prime Minister referenced recently when she said New Zealand may have to take climate refugees.

It all sounds a bit like Kevin Costner's Waterworld, but the sea-steading community has a more optimistic vision.

Founded in Silicon Valley, one of its early funders was billionaire - and New Zealand citizen - Peter Thiel.

In 2017, the Sea Steading Institute signed a memorandum of understanding with the French Polynesian government to build the first floating community.

They have identified which lagoon it will be built in, and employed a firm of Dutch architects that has previously designed floating architecture.

The planned islands will be 25 metres in diameter and cost about $5 million each, with a total population of 250.

Taking care of waste is simple, says Joe Quirk from the Sea Steading Institute. "Those technologies already exist - we have desalination technologies, we have wave generation technologies, and it's going to be powered with solar and wave energy." 

He says the sea steading vision is for fish and algae farmers and innovators who don't want to live in their current country.

Plus French Polynesia is planning to grant the project an economic sea zone.

"They control an area of ocean the size of western Europe, so we have lots of space to try out different forms of society," says Mr Quirk. "And French Polynesia is very earnest to scale up the technologies needed to adjust to sea level rise."

French Polynesia has yet to pass laws for the project to proceed, but the sea steading community hopes to start building in 2018, with three islands floating by 2020.