The Coastal Communities Nexus: Part 1


The well-being of humanity and that of the ocean are intimately linked. The world’s seas create rainclouds that feed our crops, buffer our planet from extreme temperatures, provide a bounty of food upon which billions of us rely, and offer a source of unparalleled beauty, serenity and recreation for us to enjoy. 

Oceans are suffering greatly, however, from massive plundering by industrial fishing conglomerates, hundreds of miles of dead zones born of pollution from cities and farms, swirling patches of garbage the size of Texas, and gradual increases in both temperature and acidity that threaten the foundations of the marine web of life. 

As the oceans go, so too will coastal cities, towns and villages; in the long run, ocean degradation, depletion and chemical disruption will ultimately be ruinous for nearby human communities:

Overfishing and habitat loss undermine vital sources of food and economic livelihood, while rising sea levels and warming waters will lead to more destructive storms and flooding. Water pollution kills millions of people annually from water-borne diseases, and creates dead zones in coastal waters devoid of any sea life.

Greenhouse gases are causing ocean warming and acidification that threaten us with extreme storms, prolonged drought, increased disease vectors and sea level rise, but are more immediately the source of deadly local air and water pollution for millions of people around the world.

What follows is my proposal for aiding in remediating these human and environmental problems within a single, interwoven system that integrates artificial islands with habitat restoration, clean power generation, conservation management, fish farming, biofuel production and waste treatment. I call it the Coastal Communities Nexus.

Credit: Mackenzie Greene-Powell

Coastal Communities Nexus Concept. Credit: Mackenzie Greene-Powell

This is not to imply a silver-bullet, one size fits all solution to what are planetary problems in scale. The Nexus only applies in certain regions of the world, and should be considered within the much broader efforts needed to restore our seas and improve the lives of coastal people.  

The Nexus is based upon the combination of pioneering work by several scientists, entrepreneurs, engineers, designers and nonprofit groups, and guided by the following mission and hypothesis:

We can protect the most vulnerable cities and towns from the combined effects of sea level rise and increasingly severe storms, while restoring the life in our seas and ensuring that fish continue to feed much of the world.

We can eliminate water pollution that both prematurely ends so many lives from water-borne diseases and chokes out life in coastal waters, and in doing so reap the rewards of truly sustainable, clean biofuels. 

We can harness the clean, reliable and abundant power of the wind and ocean waters to power seaside communities, and begin to displace our hazardous reliance on oil, coal and gas resources. 

Concept Summary

Human-created islands, reefs and breakwaters are engineered in imitation of natural coastal systems, and arrayed to most effectively to blunt and absorb the devastating impact of extreme storms on nearby coastal cities and towns. Think speed bumps of a scale to slow and weaken hurricanes and typhoons, which research suggests is possible. 

These reefs, breakwaters and islands also form the primary foundation upon which a handful of other components are clustered in synergistic fashion. 

Coral and oyster reefs, mangroves, dunes, marshes and estuaries are seeded and encouraged on the islands of the Nexus. These habitats are vital for many marine species, and enable the restoration of populations of finfish, shellfish, crustaceans and waterfowl, which in turn supports recreation, ecotourism and fishing. 

Anchored to the constructed islands are platforms that feed wastewater from nearby municipalities into enclosed growing tubes seeded with algae. The algae clean the water by eating the nutrients along with carbon dioxide from the air, and are later harvested for biofuels. 

In the waters below and next to the algae farm are aquaculture pods and pens, where fish are reared until they are large enough to harvest and be brought to mainland markets. 

Lastly, wind turbines are mounted on the island or breakwater, feeding power to the onshore electricity grid via undersea cables attached to the existing pipe infrastructure that sends wastewater to the algae farm. Where viable, differences in surface and bottom temperatures of the ocean are used to generate additional clean power and yield freshwater. 

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