News - December 5, 2011

Student wins prize with ‘waterworld’ for refugees

Suzanne Overbeek

They may not have looked such a great idea in the film Waterworld, but Master’s student Bastiaan Vermonden (Aquaculture & Marine Resource Management) is convinced that floating cities are the solution to the refugee problem. And the plan won him and his girlfriend Camille Benoit a prestigious French prize.

Not a bad start to your career: graduate on 23 November and go off to Paris one week later to collect the prestigious  Prix Architecture et Technologie et Design de la Mer. The princely sum of 10,000 euros and, of course, a trophy. This happened to fresh Wageningen graduate Bastiaan Vermonden. He and his French girlfriend Camille Benoit won the prize with a plan for housing refugees on the sea, which was praised by the jury for its creativity in particular.

Why do you want to put refugees on the sea?
'Mainly because of the problems surrounding the reception of refugees. By putting them up in a pleasant, well-organized floating city, you serve them better. You prevent political problems while giving the residents themselves scope for self-development.'
Who is going to keep these cities supplied and maintained?
'The residents are entirely self-sufficient; they can grow, harvest and process their own food. That way they can develop their own economy.'
Why is that sustainable?
'The energy is supplied by OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion). This system uses the relatively warm surface water to convert fluid with a low boiling point into gas that drives a turbine. Cold seawater then converts the gas into a fluid, and the cycle begins all over again. One of the uses of the energy is to pump nutrient-rich water up from the depths of the ocean, in order to fertilize the surface water for food cultivation.'
What are the advantages?
'Now that islands and coastal regions are threatened with flooding due to global warming, we thought it would be a good idea to start thinking now already about appropriate solutions. It is possible that the refugees would settle permanently in these floating cities.'
What are the disadvantages?
'The biggest danger is from hurricanes. But we expect to be able to anticipate the risks. By evacuating a city in an area where a storm is expected, for example.'
What is the link between this idea and your degree programme?
´Without the knowledge about the sea and aquaculture that I gained during my degree course, I probably wouldn´t have been able to think up the ideas that led to the winning concept.´
Do you want to make a career in this field?
'What was nice and interesting about this competition was the combination of architecture and the sea. This gives you a lot of scope for applying your creativity. I also made some extremely interesting contacts during the prize-giving ceremony, which will hopefully bring me some interesting new possibilities.'