The Voyages of the Bamboo Ark: Celebrating 20/30 Years of Biocultural Renewal

Nathan Gray | March 16, 2021 | Leave a Comment

Geoversity-logo-2This is the second blog in a new blog series by Geoversity


Geoversity’s first venture into the MAHB blogsphere began last fall with the story of our organization’s 30-year journey on a mission of youth empowerment for “biocultural leadership.” We recounted the odd twists that had us descend from the lofty and experimental, a decade of high visibility, youth-calling-youth-to-action Earth Train whistle-stop campaigns and conferences, down to the earthy stuff of planting trees and restoring rivers.

Since 2001, we have been nurturing a rainforest conservancy campus in Panama, the 12,000-acre Mamoní Valley Preserve. In that time, we’ve traveled from the global mainstream to lives of mud and stream, from international fora to fauna and flora, as we settled into the humbling task of growing a green buffer zone to help protect a biological corridor that, on the Atlantic side of the continental divide, encompasses the autonomous territory of the indigenous Guna people.

The Geo 2030 Global Initiative 

In our previous post, we spoke of our plan to celebrate our dual 20th and 30th anniversaries. However, we realized that we had entered the ‘do or die’ decade, possibly our last chance to avert the collapse of world ecological systems. The moment had come to reach back and mine our legacy of global activism, to now scale up our support of youth leaders in launching a decade of bold action – this time grounded in place.

We are pleased to share with you our Geo 2030 Global Initiative, a 10-year leadership development campaign for global climate action and the fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals. We are readying ourselves to again participate in global gatherings, starting this year with UN COP 26 in Glasgow and next year with Our Oceans 2022 Panama conference.

Big tree, with Anna

The Geoversity School of Biocultural Leadership (GeoSchool)

Meanwhile, we continue to build our resources here in the neotropics and expand our vital work of biocultural leadership mentoring for young people both at our 20-year established base in Panama and at our new nature conservancy in the Western Sonora Desert in Southern California. In these richly diverse biomes, young leaders will be discovering for themselves how to see, think, and design differently. With coaching and practical experience, youth are shifting from a pervasive linear mechanistic worldview to a regenerative perspective aligned with the way living systems actually develop, grow, and evolve. 

The Voyages of the Bamboo Ark

What elicited the most response from our blog post here last October? The mention of our plan to build the Bamboo Ark. Through all the apocalyptic gloom, the image of kids and adults working together to build an ocean-going craft fashioned from Mother Nature’s green steel clearly struck a chord. So, we return to that venture with this post, reviewing the ways our boat-building venture has over the last five months morphed over the last several months from a floating lab for Geoversity’s future Coastal Wetlands Field Station on Panama’s Pacific coast, into a far more complex and challenging undertaking.

The shift emerged from our conversations with Geoversity Design co-founder and master builder Jörg Stamm. Our focus continues to be on developing designs suitable for low-income coastal and river communities imperiled by rising seas. What might we accomplish with local materials and only the most rudimentary of tools and machinery? We found ways to prolong the utility of Bambusa vulgaris, a giant open-clumping species of bamboo now ubiquitous in the tropics, with ideas like opening nodes and stuffing culms with recycled plastic bottles or even contracting bicycle inner tubes manufacturers to produce ones that would fill the usable length of a culm. However, our general interest in the use of bamboo globally for its outstanding utility for building and carbon sequestration soon led us to consider how we might use this as an opportunity to demonstrate developing bamboo technologies, for instance plywood, environmentally benign fiber coatings, or complex 3D printed designs to generate unique connectors.

From Sustainable Bamboo Ark design at Design School in France
Sustainable Design School, France

Enter the founder of the Sustainable Film Fund and Geoversity advisor Søren Kofoed. Next thing you know, we’re talking with the Sustainable Design School of Côte d’Azur, France (SDS), co-founded and co-directed by the world-renowned naval architect and designer of record-breaking sailing catamarans that virtually fly over the water on carbon fiber foils, Marc van Peteghem. Having spent a sabbatical designing jute and bamboo fishing boats for poor Bangladeshi fishing villages (with the French NGO Watever), Marc immediately took to our project. Could SDS students design and build, under his direction, a Bamboo Ark in time for Geoversity’s participation in this year’s UN COP 26 in Glasgow in November? 

We Are Going for It!

We have to raise development capital fast, and meet the deadline for building this version of the Bamboo Ark using FSC-certified bamboo plywood for hull construction, thus making it a “medium to low tech hybrid.” Fortunately, we couldn’t ask for a more qualified builder: Classic Works on the French Riviera is one of the most respected builders of classic yachts in the world. Amazingly, Butch Dalrymple-Smith, the founder and CEO Emeritus, is now entirely focused on innovation in the treatment and use of bamboo.

Volunteer Activities
Embera Puru by Kandi Valle
Embera Puru by Kandi Valle

Candidly, we are marveling at how this all started with plans to build a rustic bamboo craft to serve as a floating lab at our future field station in the wetlands of Panama’s Pacific coast. What is now afoot is really an adventure in open-source natural design with natural materials in harmony with nature. To start, we’re simultaneously building two of many Bamboo Arks. In Panama, we are fashioning one from whole culms, to be ready in May this year for its maiden voyage with indigenous Panamanian youth leaders and activists from abroad. In France, work is starting on a 12-meter modular vessel designed to be disassembled to fit into a 40ft-container for shipping anywhere in the world. If we meet our objectives, this ‘pocket version’ of the Bamboo Ark will sail from Dublin, Ireland to the mouth of the great Clyde River and up to Glasgow in time for the opening of this decade’s first UN global conference on the fate of planet Earth.

We would be thrilled to hear from you if you are interested in participating in the design, building, or sailing phases of this epic adventure. Drop us a note at We’ll gladly brief you on our GeoSchool programs and Bamboo Ark plans, including Our Oceans 2022 Panama conference that Geoversity is supporting in late 2022, and the Panama Cup – a regatta of Bamboo Arks that we’ll be hosting at that time. We look forward to hearing from you!  

Written by Nathan Gray with Tamsin Woolley-Barker, Ph.D., and Myrna James, Geoversity.

Nathan Gray is Co-Founder and President of the  Geoversity Foundation

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