In 1999, the Seawater Foundation, under the direction of Carl Hodges, started a project called SeaFarms-Eritrea, designed to demonstrate multi-crop sea farming at a coastal site just north of Massawa (vicinity 15.66N/39.46E), just north of the Gurgusum Beach Resort (the best way to find it on Google Earth). The idea was to grow shrimp and tilapia in sea water, and feed the effluents to mangrove wetlands, as well as to a salt-loving plant called salicornia, which in turn would be either fed to flocks, or turned into biofuel.
This is what the site looked like at its peak (you can click on the picture to get a better view). The circular areas at the bottom are the shrimp ponds, the oval with the eight white dots is where they grew tilapia, and the salicornia fields are the rectangles toward the top. The flooded area between the fields and the white house on the beach is to be a mangrove wetland.
Here’s another view of just the northern part. I don’t know if they really got this far along or if the green in the picture was photoshopped. Whatever the stage of development, it was doomed.
You see, the Eritrean ruling party, the PDFJ, became more and more repressive and xenophobic over the years, and in 2003, the foreign staff were driven out, some of the local staff were arrested, the project was shut down. Here’s a Google Earth photo from the spring of 2004 (the earliest available). The salicornia fields have already dried up, as have the wetlands. Note the reddish ground scarring on the beach at the top center of the picture, north of the white house. Just off the picture to the north, someone carved out the Lufthansa Airlines bird logo in one of the old salicornia fields. Like the rest of the project, it’s slowly rotting away.
And here’s one from fall of 2006. The fields are now totally dry, as are the shrimp and tilapia ponds. Some sort of road or pipeline now cuts across the former wetland. Probably a pipeline, since it is so straight, and later photos show much of it drifted over with sand. UPDATE: If you follow it south to Massawa, you see that it crosses underneath a couple of paved roads, so it’s a pipeline. It fades out when it gets into the city, so I can’t tell where the southern end of it is.
The ground scarring proves to be the base for a multi-wing building, under construction. It’s got too much parking space to be a dwelling, so it’s likely to be a public building of some sort. Obviously, it’s something the regime is more interested in than a land reclamation program.
UPDATE: Imagery of November 2011 shows it’s a pair of what looks like Las Vegas style hotels, complete with a swimming pool (still empty).
UPDATE: Imagery of November 2016 shows that even this effort has been abandoned. The pool is starting to collect windblown dirt, and there are a number of large bushes growing on the inner side of the fenceline and in the hotel courtyards.
The bright spot in this story? With what he learned in Eritrea, Hodges has started another project, at Bahia Kino, northwest of Guaymas, Mexico.
UPDATE: Well, it was a bright spot. In 2010, the project failed to deliver on a biodiesel contract with a Mexican airline, Interjet. This was because Hodges failed to supervise the local workers, and the site wasn’t irrigated daily, as required. Next year, Interjet apparently switched suppliers, and sources (using jatropha, rather than salicornia). Other companies and sources are now entering the picture, and as of 2010, Global Seawater seems to have disappeared.
UPDATE: In 2010, Hodges became affiliated with a company called New Nile. Their goal appears to be generating biomass from salcornia. Their webpage has a copyright notice of 2012, and I can’t find any other information. I suspect that they, and all similar companies, have had their business model destroyed by the oil price collapse.