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Centuries of food and job security for coastal peoples

Coastal communities gain excess food and jobs. They can stay home and host newcomers with their new flexible floating fishing reefs.

Photo of Mark Capron
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Restorative aquaculture addresses the root causes of forced migration by creating a new food resource for coastal people. This new resource (new infrastructure) can sustainably increase local fisheries yield well beyond the local need for food and jobs. Many coastal communities are experiencing declining fisheries on top of climate change (droughts, floods, sea level rise, ocean acidification, ocean heatwaves, etc.). Restorative aquaculture allows these communities to stay home adapting to climate change while achieving a developed country quality of life. The fisheries yields can be increased beyond the needs of the existing community such that additional talents (refugees) are welcome. Communities also earn money from exporting seafood. The diagram above shows how the structure supports abundant growth of local types of seaweed, which support increased numbers of local types of small fish, which attract larger commercial sized fish. It also supports local varieties of shellfish, crustaceans, sponges, etc. There can even be a layer for sea cucumbers and other bottom feeders to thrive and be harvested. In other words, we create an optimized reef ecosystem, even better than natural reefs because we adjust the depth at different times of year for maximum productivity. These artificial reefs provide safer stable fishing platforms closer to shore and controlled by the local community, less likely to experience poaching and raiding by foreign fishers.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

Every developing country coastal community. Restorative aquaculture appears better suited to developing country communities cooperating to protect and harvest many species in the area around their cluster of fishing reefs. Traditional aquaculture (penned finfish) has a developed country perspective, uses high cost fishmeal and is uncomfortable with free-range finfish, harvesting multiple species, and permanent rope reef structures.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Floating flexible fishing reefs vastly increase seafood production everywhere, thus making receiving communities able to handle more refugees. They are analogous to finding "new farmland". Each reef is new land that is farmed without freshwater. Developed countries could fund the creation of more new land (reefs) and training for the refugees proportional to the number of refugees that a community welcomes. Refugees would bring a huge new labor resource to match the new reef resource.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

These reefs directly meet the following UN Sustainable Development Goals: No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good health, Clean Water, Economic Growth, Climate Action, and Life Below Water. Global objectives – Give coastal people food, jobs, and hope for centuries. Food, jobs, and hope accomplish many UN Sustainable Development Goals. Centuries of food and job security allow coastal people to stay home and welcome refugees to their community. Solve Global issues – People become refugees when home becomes unlivable. Homes become unlivable for many interrelated reasons, often acerbated by climate change: • Insufficient food – Crop failures, fisheries collapse, and associated job loss (drought or running out of groundwater/snow melt; floods; changing sea level) • Violence and associated job loss – Wars, gangs, sometimes power and wealth-control struggles, but often traced back to crop failures and insufficient hope for a job.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Coastal communities can design, build, and operate their own fishing reefs as a new kind of aquaculture. As an example of a well-managed natural reef, consider the people of Punta Abreojos, Baja California Sur, Mexico. They manage abalone on nearby reefs for a sustainable developed-country income and quality of life. Every coastal community could have similar income and quality of life, if they had similar resources. Every coastal community could have similar resources in the form of a floating flexible reef. Every important natural reef could become a marine sanctuary with all the fishing on the natural reefs now moving to artificial floating reefs, which are scientifically designed and constructed and operated to be more productive per hectare.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Restorative aquaculture involves large (20-hectare growing area per reef ) floating flexible fishing reefs. The reefs are installed in the open ocean at seafloor depths between 40 and 200 meters. The reef’s growing surface is normally at the ideal depth for local seaweed, 3 to 10 meters below the ocean surface. Some reefs may submerge to avoid storms. The reef’s ecosystem can be left to nature or planted. Species that will volunteer or can be planted include seaweeds, seagrasses, epiphytes, giant clams, oysters, mussels, conch, abalone, crabs, lobster, sea cucumber, sea urchin, sponges, herbivore finfish, filter-feeding finfish, sea turtles, aquatic mammals, predatory finfish, sharks, and more. Only some of the species on the reef will be harvested. Most of the species are left alone to reproduce, grow, and feed the harvested species. Fishmeal is not required for fish production. Instead, plant nutrients replenish the nutrients harvested from the system by photosynthesis.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

These communities need access to the ocean, plus some people who have a history and interest in fishing. In many coastal developing countries (especially the least developed) foreign industrial fishing fleets, especially bottom trawlers, have put local fishers out of business by sweeping the coast of all fish, destroying the marine ecosystems so they cannot self-recover, especially when polluted by effluents from farms and inadequate, malfunctioning sewage systems. Fortunately artificial floating reefs can be scientifically designed and operated with seaweed and shellfish to transform excess pollutants into food for other creatures. Your fishing reef goes beyond sustainable. Your fishing reef goes beyond restoring local ecosystems to pre-human conditions. Your fishing reef can increase biodiversity and productivity in spite of climate change.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Economics – As the cost comparison at right suggests, most of the cost for restorative aquaculture is for infrastructure. Most of the cost for penned finfish is for unsustainable consumables. (Neither example includes boats, equipment and labor costs.) Open-ocean restorative aquaculture can be combined with Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA). For example, finfish pens may be attached to the flexible reef. Or the entire reef enclosed to be one huge pen. People could supply the penned finfish with fishmeal. The penned fish urine and feces become the fertilizer for seaweed and shellfish.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

We seek people in or from coastal communities with some local ocean fishing expertise. They might be about to move due to declining fisheries, or on the move. Ideally, those about to move would be open to hosting and training those on the move. Where there are welcoming hosts, we recommend installing more fishing reefs to provide more food and jobs than needed by the existing community. The local community will design, own, and operate each fishing reef. Like a cluster of natural reefs, each new reef cluster will have a custom structure, custom substrate, custom sea creature shelters, custom harvest techniques, unique ecosystem, and custom economics. For example, some coastal communities may emphasize seafood selling for less than $1/kg at the dock. Other coastal communities may emphasize exports selling for $3/kg at the dock or restoring prehistoric fisheries such as Giant Clam in the Gulf of Thailand or Queen Conch in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Leaving a community of origin

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Prototype: We have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Group or Organization Name


Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

The OceanForesters’ open-ocean permanent-reef concept for restorative aquaculture builds on Dr. Ricardo Radulovich’s near-shore multi-product sea-farms in Costa Rica. Funding from the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) MARINER program supported refining the design of one possible reef structure with associated scale and economics. The service life of the reef structure developed for ARPA-E exceeds 15-years, in locations with Category 5 tropical storms. The OceanForesters-organized team is led by the University of Southern Mississippi and includes faculty from University of New Hampshire, Texas A&M University, Baylor University, University of the South Pacific, U.S. Naval Academy, Florida Atlantic University, University of Alabama at Birmingham, and University of Louisiana at Lafayette. We are grateful for informal assistance from Dr. Radulovich, Dr. Alejandro Buschmann, Dr. Kevin Hopkins, NOAA, Samson Rope, and Applied Fiber.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a For-Profit Startup or Startup Social Enterprise

Organization Headquarters: Country

United States of America

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Ventura, California
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Attachments (3)

Scale of Restorative Aquaculture w-energy, Jun20-19.pdf

Best short description of "restorative aquaculture."

Implementing restorative aquaculture, Jul10-19.pdf

Contains a list of the team members needed to implement a restorative aquaculture project with some indication of costs.

$100B for Food,Biofuels,ReverseCC,May26-19.pdf

Restorative aquaculture can expand to - Feed the world. Fuel the world. Restore natural CO2 levels. Cure climate change. This paper has a table suggesting that how fast each objective happens depends on how quickly we invest.


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Photo of Mark Capron

Check out this story in National Geographic:
In the mountain city of Huehuetenango, Guatemala, people migrate to the U.S.A. to escape crushing poverty. They also foresee mining companies and hydropower developers eliminating their hope for the future, perhaps starting another civil war.
We could build flexible floating fishing reefs on the Pacific coast of Guatemala and El Salvador or the Caribbean coasts of Honduras, Belize, and Mexico creating many more jobs than the number of workers living near each reef. People from Huehuetenango (and other locations) could work on the reefs. Some would send money to family back in Huehuetenango. Some would bring their immediate family and meld into the new community. Unlike migrating to El Norte, the workers could visit home and entertain visitors from home.
The same can be done for African mountain or desert communities that are far from the coast.
We can build about 200,000 20-ha reefs before exceeding the global demand for seafood. The income from each reef should support over 100 workers earning over $10,000/yr (not including health, vacation time, and other benefits). That would be at least 20,000,000 direct jobs.

Photo of Jim Stewart

Mark, what a great idea. These ocean forest reefs not only clean up ocean pollution, they can also pasteurize the sewage from refugee camps and use it to fertilize the seaweed on the reefs and make it grow faster. Hope I can join your team and make this idea happen soon!

Photo of Mark Capron

Everyone in the OpenIdeo Bridgebuilder contest may want to coordinate with the top twenty Climate CoLab contestants:

OceanForesters' Climate CoLab entry at:

Photo of Udoka Inwang

Amazing stuff Mark Capron 

Photo of Bremley Lyngdoh

What a terrific idea Mark Capron and I wonder if you can deploy this technology in the delta region of Myanmar which is a Least Developed Country with the highest risk from the impacts of climate change that could displace millions of vulnerable coastal communities. Back in 2008 cyclone Nargis struck and killed more that 150,000 people and displace millions in the delta region as their mangrove shield is only 15% left after massive deforestation over the last 30 years for charcoal and shrimp production.

Photo of Mark Capron

Dear Bremley,
Yes, but not in the delta, which is already highly productive. Rather in the open ocean where the seafloor is at least 40 meters deep.
Look in Google Earth with "Ocean" and "Terrain" checked. You can see a lot of continental shelf off the coast of Myanmar with seafloor depth between 40 and 200 meters.

One of our floating flexible fishing reef designs is appropriate for areas with frequent cyclones. 98% of the time, the new fishing reef might be 5 meters below the ocean surface. When a cyclone approaches, it submerges to escape the waves.

Photo of Mark Capron

Dear Bremley,
Based on Google Earth seafloor elevations - Myanmar has 50,000 km2 of appropriate seafloor depth, good for about 4,000 of the 20-ha cyclone-surviving fishing reefs. (Bangladesh has 30,000 km2 of appropriate seafloor depth, but the Bangladesh area is generally farther from shore than the Myanmar area.)
We expect each reef will cost about $2 million to install, when mass-produced. We expect each 20-ha reef will generate 3,000 tons of seafood per year. Seafood for local consumption might sell for US$0.5/kg at the dock. Seafood for export might sell for $2/kg at the dock. That is a range of income from seafood sales $1.5 million/yr to $6 million/yr.

Photo of Mark Capron

Dear Bremley,
Restorative aquaculture can work two ways: 1) People won't need to leave their coastal village because of the economic opportunity; and 2) a coastal village (or unpopulated coast) could permanently welcome refugees because of the economic opportunity.

The economic opportunity appears so great that restorative aquaculture can fund adaptations so that people can stay home. For example, buy-out the shrimp farming operations and plant mangroves. The buy-out money allows the shrimp farmers to buy-in to the restorative aquaculture operation (or re-locate/re-build shrimp farms using less area or area not as good for mangroves, maybe on the flexible floating fishing reefs). Concerning charcoal for cooking - If people had decent jobs they could afford something better: much more efficient (and healthier) stoves, biogas from 55-gallon anaerobic digestion tanks (India does a lot of this. The University of the South Pacific has done this.); propane or LNG in the short-term; renewable electricity in the long term.

Photo of Udoka Inwang

Amazing work