The biggest news at the 2012 Seasteading Conference was the donation (not quite complete) of a 275 foot ship (formerly used for gambling) to the Seasteading Institute. I doubt the Seasteading Institute has much ability to use such a ship directly. It sounds like they will rent it out to some organization that is better suited to managing it, although the obvious choice (Blueseed) probably needs a bigger ship in order to achieve enough economies of scale to be profitable.
This is the first seasteading conference with a seasteading related startup (Blueseed). Most of what they said has been getting publicity for months. What seemed new about the presentation was that a quarter of those expressing interest in living on the ship are from the U.S. and are seeking a place with lots of “cool” people (i.e. not motivated by the visa problems Blueseed is designed to solve). Also, Blueseed has been turning away some businesses that might create political risks (they mentioned Bitcoin, but it wasn’t clear whether that referred to an actual business or a hypothetical).
There was talk about “Peak Phosphorus”, which might say something important about future phosphorus prices, and which is one of several motivations for growing algae, combined with some method for raising nutrient-rich deep water to the surface. The most visionary approach to raising deep water is OTEC, which is a plausible plan for producing power, but would require a fairly large initial investment, and I don’t know how to figure out whether it’s a wise investment.
I didn’t hear much about eating the algae directly, but LiveFuels Inc. has a plan to raise fish from algae. That would produce tasty food with a better omega-6/omega-3 ratio than most farmed fish (such as the soy industry backed Kampachi also at the conference).
Two lawyers who seemed to know everything possible about the Law of the Sea treaty, but not much about its relevance to seasteading, provided some interesting anecdotes. They claim that the controversy over the common heritage of mankind provision originated when Lockheed claimed to be interested in deep seabed mining as a cover for a CIA funded operation to retrieve a Soviet nuclear submarine. Competitors decided that if Lockheed thought the mining might be profitable, they should also research it. (The reports I see on the web differ a bit from what I heard at the conference).
There is a recently renewed push for U.S. ratification of the treaty. The speakers didn’t think it would have much effect on seasteading. For a better analysis of why it would create some risks of tragedy of the commons type problems, see section 4 of Charting the Course. See also the opposition to a similar provision in the Moon Treaty by the space colonization movement.