Whitecaps Incorporated of the Federated States of Micronesia
Welcome to Station 122J: A Typical Mariculture Facility
Map of Station 122J
Layout of center station
From its headquarters in Hagåtña (Agana), Guam, Whitecaps Inc. manages enormous stretches of the South Pacific Ocean, operating a wide range of mariculture and related facilities. Its jaunty and brilliant white navy-style cap is recognized around the world today, and indeed remains a popular fashion item. As a major food producer, this firm accounts for a considerable portion of FSM export value, and is also a major employer. As a result, it enjoys close relations with the FSM government on all levels, and controls a powerful lobby to help ensure that government policy is favorable.
Whitecaps traces its origins back to about 2060, when the Japan Seafood Corp (later to merge with a New Zealand firm to create the Poseidon Group) received loans from the Japanese government to implement the offshore tuna "farms" it had been planning for over a decade. The massive infusion of capital paid off, and their technology for establishing netting "cages" underwater with aeration was rapidly adopted to a variety of fish, producing phenomenal yields at an increasing number of facilities in Japanese offshore sites.
JSC began establishing similar facilities in the Philippines shortly thereafter, although their efforts were severely hampered by military clashes throughout the islands. With the establishment of the Federation of Japan and the Philippines in 2096, they founded a subsidiary in Aguinaldo, Pilipinas and began wholesale mariculture facility development.
By the mid-22nd century there were a number of mariculture firms operating facilities throughout the Philippines and Micronesia, of which JSC was clearly the largest. The Federated States of Micronesia joined the Federation of Japan, the Philippines and Micronesia at this time, and the Japanese government strongly suggested to JSC - and other Japanese corporations active in Micronesia - that joint ventures be established with local firms, or other measures taken to transfer apparent control Micronesia companies and reduce the high visibility of Japanese ownership. The same process had taken place in the Philippines as well, and was implemented smoothly in both regions. In many cases, Japanese banks would loan a Micronesian firm capital to purchase a piece of another Japanese firm (often in the same corporate group).
As local talent was recruited and trained, rising to management levels, the Japanese firms gradually pulled out, leaving the day-to-day operations in local hands and evolving into absent stockholders, which suited both parties just fine.
In 2234, facing an unexpected crisis in its financial affairs, JSC agreed to sell all its shares in its Micronesian subsidiary, JSC Micronesia Corp., receiving a major cash payment and future royalties on various technologies and patents.
On April 1, 2234, Whitecaps Incorporated of the Federated States of Micronesia was born, with a range of shareholders including large local businesses, Japanese banks, and private investors (residents of Micronesia).
Whitecaps is in the mariculture business - often known as "fish farming." They handle a range of products in addition to mere fish, though:
Mussels offer a protein content as high as beefsteak, but only a quarter the calories and one-sixth the fat. They represent an extremely efficient method of converting phytoplankton into nutritious, delicious food, being capable of filtering up to five liters of water per hour. Mussels grow faster in dark, warm water with relatively fast currents, and the mussels in the Whitecaps farms can be harvested every four months. The shellfish are raised on plastic lattices which simulate wood, but which withstand corrosion in salt water much longer (originally mussels were raised on wooden stakes).
The oyster is another tasty shellfish, and indeed commands a higher per-kg price than the more common mussel. Unlike mussels, however, they prefer to sink their "feet" into sand, which means they demand more care than mussels. To increase the amount of available oyster bed per unit of sea surface, they are now raised in multi-layered artificial beds, often using a synthetic sand made of plastic beads, and enjoying the rich ocean currents flowing through constantly. While traditional methods require access to relatively shallow, sandy regions, this approach makes it possible to raise them in deep-sea facilities, away from the pollution of coastal locations.
In addition to food, oysters are also used to raise pearls. Due to the peculiarities of the oyster, they must be prepared and the pearl nuclei inserted with considerable care and precision, and within a short period of time. Japanese robots have taken care of the care and precision aspect, while various drugs are used to extend the time period, but even so the week or two immediately following the spawning season is extremely busy. After the surgery to insert the nuclei, the oysters must be kept in protected cages for four to six weeks, and then are transferred to the culture rafts. It takes three to four years to grow a pearl.
Other shellfish such as clams, cockles and abalone are also raised through similar procedures, although on considerably smaller scale.
As shrimp do not breed in captivity, it is indeed fortunate that a single female may spawn 300,000 to 400,000 eggs at a time, and sometimes as high as a million. Each female must be carefully exposed to male sperm individually, which is time- and labor-intensive, but the productivity is, well, enormous. Young shrimp eat about 10% of their body weight daily, but unfortunately will begin to munch on each other as they grow larger. Easily grown, harvested and shipped to eager buyers around the world, however, a range of shrimp varieties from tiny fairy shrimp to giant prawn remains a prime food product.
Crabs are a high value-added product due to their cannibalistic nature: as they must be raised separated from each other, the production cost is unusually high. With natural crab beds, such as the king crab beds of the North Pacific, largely extinct, however, crab remains a luxury item with a solid demand.
Lobster is another crustacean which is quite simple to take care of, like the crab, but poses a different problem: their large size requires considerable maturation time. It takes about five years to reach commercial size (half a kg), although the growth process continues throughout the life of the animal - with a life span of between 50 and 100 years, this can mean weights of up to 20 kg! A key problem with lobster culture is a disease called gaffkemia, a bacterial infection transmitted through shell ruptures. Since lobsters tend to injure each other frequently the disease can spread rapidly if not promptly brought under control, occasionally wiping out entire cultures. Methods of prevention and treatment are still under research as existing techniques are surprisingly expensive.
An astonishing variety of finfish are grown in free-floating netted enclosures, thanks to clean ocean currents flowing through them, plentiful supplies of feed, and control of predators. Very few of these food fish have any objection to swimming together with other fish, making it possible to use enormous mix-and-match wire-net cages efficiently. Unlike many wild animals, finfish do not even seem to notice that they are penned, and live quite happily in their restricted environments even though their ancestors roamed the oceans of the world. In addition to meat fish like tuna, a range of fish are also cultured for their valuable byproducts, including sturgeon (caviar) and cod (cod liver oil).
While the whale was formerly harvested for its meat and oil, today it is raised much as dairy cows, providing hundreds of gallons of high-calorie milk on a daily basis. Older or injured whales are culled from herds and processed to retrieve their meat, blubber and bone. As whales travel continuously, the milking ships track them throughout the year, milking the females on an almost daily basis while providing protection, veterinary services and even friendship. When a sufficient quantity of milk has accumulated it is pumped into a submarine tanker which transports it to an appropriate process facility in Tokyo (Japan), Aguinaldo City (Pilipinas), Hagåtña (Micronesia), Honolulu (USA), Seattle (USA) or Lima (Inca). It is gradually coming to replace cow milk, especially in East Asia, as cattle are phased out in favor of other agroproducts which make more efficient use of available land and resources.
Algae and seaweed
The largest crop is of course spirulina blue-green algae, which has been used as human food for thousands of years. It is simple to grow, simple to harvest, and astonishingly packed with nutrition. While diatoms, for example, are encased in glassy silica, the shell of the spirulina cell is composed of mucopolysaccharide, which is 85% digestable: in all, spirulina is 65% protein by weight, compared to only 35% for soybeans, for example. In addition, spirulina contains all 8 of the essential amino acids, in quantities equivalent to meat, milk or eggs, not to mention an assortment of vitamins and minerals. Being green and smelly, however, not many people actually want to eat it, for which reason it is processed into a flavorless, odorless white powder with the same 85% protein content. This conversion requires considerable quantities of alcohol, which are manufactured onsite using algae and seaweed as feedstock for a chemical reactor. The removed chlorophyll and beta carotene are themselves saleable commodities with significant annual revenues.
A wide variety of seaweed is also raised, but due to the relatively low market prices and the distance from Japan, almost none is exported. Diatoms, green algae and several kelp varieties are raised as on-site foodstuffs, and a selection of high-value plants are raised in semi-protected environments for pharmaceutical uses. Another key crop at the facility is a very special strain of blue-green algae (Synechococcus sp. cyanobacteria) which generates hydrogen from oxygen in seawater. The generated hydrogen is captured and stored for use as fuel, driving most site machinery and transportation systems, with the extra sold off.
The major product seaweed is Laminaria digitata, which is about 50% algin by weight. Algin is an essential ingredient in a range of films, gels, rubber and plastic materials, cosmetics and more. Most important of all, its molecular structure (a long chain of interlocking rings) makes it ideal for spinning into textile threads, which have the fineness and texture of silk. Trace quantities of certain metals can impart significant tensile strength and beautiful (and completely colorfast) colors. Copper and nickel alginates are green, cobalt alginate is red, and chromium alginate blue. Other colorless alginates can be dyed to almost any color with conventional dyestuffs. This "sea silk" is also non-flammable, and is widely utilized around the world.
In addition to being grown for use and sale, the seaweed also performs a crucial function for the facility overall: it processes millions of tons of fish excrement annually into useful product, creating a small-scale recycling ecology which re-uses the majority of its own waste products.
Welcome to Station 122J: A Typical Mariculture Facility
This facility, one of the larger ones operated by Whitecaps, was the 122nd structure to be constructed by the firm, and is located in ocean area J. Completed in 2287, it has been in full operation for about 15 years and is recognized as a highly-productive and innovative, mature, mariculture facility.
The overall facility encompasses a total of about 100,000 acres (an acre is 43,560 square feet or 4,047 square m; 640 acres to a square mile), or about 150 square miles (400 sq km). The center station is located in the middle of the hexagonal installation, and is provided with dormitories, primary storage and processing facilities, and communication and data processing equipment, as well as a helicopter platform and docking facilities.
A number of other platforms are scattered throughout the site, provided with various facilities as required depending on the specific foodstuffs raised in each area. The platforms are linked by hydrofoils, with communication cables linking them into a static-proof network. Power is provided by a number of OTECs (ocean thermal energy converters) operating off the cold, nitrogen-rich upwelling pumped up from several thousand meters below the surface. The nitrogen in the water feeds massive phytoplankton blooms, which convert over 80% of the nitrogen into protein. In the process, the temperature differential between the hot equatorial surface water and the cold deep water generates roughly 100 MW of electrical power per OTEC: with three OTECs in operation, this more than enough to run the entire facility, with power to spare for export.
Visual and radio buoys clearly mark individual "plots," while sea lanes are provided throughout the facility to provide freighters with easy access. Freighters generally call on a weekly basis, although special runs are fairly common to suit the requirements of specific products. In emergencies, helicopter and seaplane transport can land next to all platforms.
There are usually about 100 people living on the facility, working 3-month terms and 10-hour days. Pay is high, but in spite of extensive entertainment facilities and satellite links to information network, boredom remains a major problem. In addition to the management and general laborers, there is also a 26-person research group headquartered on the center station; researchers normally work 6-month terms and 8-hour days, although with relatively common trips to land, other facilities or deep-sea sites. The people are assisted in their work by a host of surface and subsurface boats, robotic and remote-controlled machinery, satellite-based remote sensing, and two well-trained pods totalling about 80 dolphins born, raised and trained on-site.
Since Station 122J is located quite some distance from the nearest island, daily commuting is not possible, but other similar sites located in coastal waters often transport the labor force in and back daily, making it possible for them to lead relatively normal lives. This is not an option for Station 122J, however.
Map of Station 122J
The facility is hexagonal, turned so that a flat side faces the Southern Equatorial Current heading west along the equator, preventing it from running through the sea lane. It measures 5.5 km from center to apex, with one sea lane along each apex-to-center axis (each sea lane is one-way, except for small boat traffic). The sealanes are named using clock hours, indicating the direction of travel: the sealane running north-south is always travelled from north to south, and is therefore called Sealane 12-6 ("twelve six"). The other two are named 5-10 (travel from lower right to upper left) and 8-2 (from lower left to upper right).
Platforms are located every 5.5 km, in the center, adjacent to the sea lanes and on the perimeter, for a total of 1 center, 6 interior and 12 perimeter platforms (total 19) arranged in an array of equilateral triangles. Small boat lanes connect all platforms to all adjacent platforms, cutting the facility into 24 triangular sections, each 5.5 km on a side. These are named "A" through "X", and each section is divided into a number of layers, which are referred to by depth of their floors in units of 10 meters (eg, a cage in section "C" with a 20-meter deep floor would be referred to as C2). If cages are smaller than a full section, a sequential number is added after the "C2" designation.
Layout of center station (pending)
The first step is feedstock preparation, which means the drying and grinding of the raw material, and removal of all foreign objects. This prepared feed is injected into the reactor along with steam (produced electrically). The mixture is heated for a short time, and as the gas exits the reactor heat is recovered while removing trace quantities of inorganic material, and any remaining non-gaseous material.
The feed gas is then compressed to the pressure needed for operation of the Fischer-Tropsch alcohol reactor. It is mixed with recycled gas from the gas-liquid separator, preheated and returned to the reactor via a feedback loop. The partially-reacted gas and generated alcohol is output and cooled, and the liquid alcohols removed in the separator, then passed storage. Any un-reacted gas is recycled to the reactor.
A single OTEC is about 90 meters in diameter, and has a height of about 60 meters, excluding upwell intakes. The turbine alone is about 35 meters in diameter.
Cold water is pumped up from several thousand meters below the surface by a propellor-type pump. The water enters a chamber which has been pumped down to a fairly low pressure, allowing hot surface seawater to boil to produce low-temperature steam, which is in turn used to spin the turbine, producing electricity. After turning the turbine, the steam passes through a condenser cooled by the cold seawater pumped up from below, condensing into fresh water. When the steam changes phase to a liquid, it causes the pressure to drop throughout the system, establishing a continuing cycle. While only a very small portion of the intake surface water is turned to steam, the sheer quantity of water available makes it possible to power the huge turbine.
In addition to generating electricity, the OTEC also generates ample quantities of fresh water. The cold water leaving the condenser is extremely rich in nitrogen, and provides the energy source for the seafarm plants, and, indirectly, animals.
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