Navigating the Complexity of Floating Developments

Nathalie Mezza-Garcia, Seaphia

Over the past two decades, there has been a growing body of work in the field of complex governance, which assumes that socio-ecological-political systems are complex, nested, emergent and non-linear. However, there has been a void in the complex systems literature when looking at the governance of floating developments with special regulatory frameworks, such as Special Economic Zones, seasteads and their synthesized form, SeaZones.

This presentation addresses this gap in the scholarship by taking a complex systems perspective to examine the regulatory framework, governance, stakeholders and events of a particular case study, namely the Floating Island Project in French Polynesia. In doing so, this research aims to understand the governance, creation and demise of the Floating Island through complexity theory. Using participatory observation and document analysis in the case study, the presentation explores three notions relating to complex governance in this attempt to set up the world’s first floating Special Economic Zone.

The research found that the Floating Island Project exhibited three key features of complex governance: first, it was structured as a nested system; Second, it concerned stakeholders in multiple levels, including local and global; Third, it was pervaded by waves of cross-temporal and cross-spatial events. Overall, the research examines, from a complex systems perspective, the possibilities, limitations, and challenges of setting up floating developments with special regulatory frameworks – with spatial, legal and digital extraterritoriality. This presentation and the results it presents contributes to and extends the scholarship on complex governance in general and floating developments with special regulatory frameworks, SeaZones, specifically.

Keywords – Complexity, Governance, Nested, Regulatory framework, Waves


Nathalie is the CEO of Seaphia, a consulting company for floating developments based in Barranquilla, Colombia. Nathalie pursued PhD at the University of Warwick, where she analyzed, from a complex systems perspective, an attempt to create the first floating Special Economic Zone – the Floating Island Project in French Polynesia. Nathalie additionally provided marketing support for Blue Frontiers, the company leading the project, in the form of a podcast she hosted and blogs about floating developments. Nathalie’s work has appeared on CNBC, Forbes, Business insider and has been translated to more than 15 languages.

Today, as Seaphia’s CEO, Nathalie’s work focuses on bringing floating developments to Latin American markets, for high-tech economic development and inclusive climate action. Nathalie is currently developing leads within Colombia for a floating blue tech and blue economy accelerator and she is discussing with Warwick Institute for Global Sustainable Development a project of inclusive climate action.

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