Dissertation: National Governance Of Ocean Volumes, 2014-2016

National Governance Of Offshore Volumes: Challenging Geometries, Geopolitics And Geophysicalities

Principle Investigator

2014 National Science Foundation — East Asia Pacific Summer Institute (EAPSI), New Zealand, $5,000. Matching funds provided by Royal Society of New Zealand, $3,200.

2014 Social Science Research Council — Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship: Oceanic Studies: Seas as Sites & Subjects of Interdisciplinary Inquiry, $5,000.

2014 Social & Behavioral Sciences Research Institute, University of Arizona — Dissertation Grant. $1,500.

2014 Graduate andProfessional Student Council, University of Arizona — Research and Project Grant. $1,000.

Jeffrey Banister

May 2014 – July 2016


The ocean has long been imagined by many cultures as a wild frontier, an alien place. Even more so, the deep sea has been understood as a place of profound mysteries, obscured from extensive scientific inquiry by a few thousand metres of dark, cold, salty seawater. As the place where life originated and evolved on this planet, the deep sea holds clues to our evolutionary past in its myriad diverse, seemingly extraterrestrial, aquatic life forms. Very little of the ocean’s depths have been explored in detail because of its immensity and the expense of operating in its extreme conditions. Yet in the last few years global metal markets and technological advancements have made deep seabed resource extraction increasingly feasible. Seabed mining remains an experimental technology intended to dredge up mineral sands, nodules, cones and crusts that contain ores accumulated on and within the seafloor. In the struggle to meet resource production demands, some have turned offshore to satisfy growing food, fuel, and mineral appetites, implicating the seabed as the latest location for large-scale resource extraction. However, arguments put forth regarding seabed mining as inevitable, as essential progress towards harnessing this “frontier” space, disregard previous attempts and failures of such endeavours.

While it is still true that relatively little is known about the deep sea compared to land, data are being collected that fundamentally change how ocean spaces are thought and practiced. Beneath the surface of our planet’s expansive oceans lays the prospects of a new gold rush, one in which companies scour the seabed for minerals and rare metals in pursuit of sunken geologic treasures. The desire to locate such deposits is facilitating a surge in attempts to map sections of seabed in high resolution and to probe the ocean floor to determine the extent and composition of its raw materials. These technical assessments are also steps in a process to assert national marine territorial boundaries, key to transforming the seabed into a space for industrial-scale resource extraction.

A sense of urgency characterises attempts to exploit this seafloor wealth amongst discourses of resource scarcity and the inevitability of development within this space. In response, Pacific peoples are grappling with how to determine new legislation, environmental management regimes, and economic benefits associated with such a vast and historically invisible resource space. Yet before mining has even begun, one effect of such proposed projects is the constitution of the deep seabed as a location of desire, hope, friction, and anxiety—with important implications for evolving state practices of resource governance.

This dissertation focuses on emerging political seascapes in the face of new seabed mining industries. I spent 4 months consulting archival sources and conducting stakeholder interviews in New Zealand and Fiji in 2014.


2020 Sammler, K. The rising politics of Sea Level: Demarcating territory in a vertically relative world. Territory, Politics, Governance. doi:10.1080/21622671.2019.1632219.

2020 Sammler, K. “Kauri and the Whale: Oceanic Matter and Meaning in New Zealand,” pp. 63-84. In I. Braverman and E. Johnson (eds.), Blue Legalities: The Law and Life of the Sea, Durham: Duke University Press. 330 pp.

2017 Sammler, K. “The Deep Pacific: Island Governance and Seabed Mineral Development” in E. Stratford (ed.), Island Geographies: Essays and ConversationsRoutledge Studies in Human Geography. New York, NY: Routledge.

Conference Proceedings

2015 Sammler, K. From Ocean Abyss to Vacuum of Space: Privatization in the Vertical CommonsAssociation of Pacific Coast Geographers, Palm Springs, CA 21-24 Oct.

2014 Sammler, K. Emerging Resource Management Strategies and Deep Seabed Mining in South Pacific Island NationsIslands of the World Conference, Penghu, TW 22–27 Sep.

Paper Awards

2015 Sammler, K., Ocean Governance and Seabed Mineral Development in the South Pacific. Association of American Geographers Political Geography Specialty Group, honorable mention, $150.

Papers Presented

2015 Sammler, K. Subsuming the Submerged: Producing Seabeds as Political Territories. Association of American Geographers, Chicago, IL, 21–25 Apr.

2015 Sammler, K. Knowing the Abyss: Seeking Geographies of Ocean Space. Oceans and Deserts: Charting Transdisciplinary Currents in Environment and Culture within the Arts and Sciences, Tucson, AZ 6–7 Mar.

2014 Sammler, K. Emerging Resource Management Strategies and Deep Seabed Mining in South Pacific Island Nations. Islands of the World Conference, Penghu Archipelago, Taiwan 22–27 Sep.

2014 Sammler, K. The Deep Pacific: Island Governance and Seabed Mineral Development. Association of American Geographers, Tampa, FL 8–12 Apr.

2014 Sammler, K. Sovereignty Submerged: Deep Sea Mining, Governance, & Accumulation in the Pacific. Dimensions of Political Ecology, Lexington, KY 27 Feb–1 Mar.

2013 Sammler, K. Ruin Spreads Over the Deep: The Production and Materiality of Ocean Space. Association of American Geographers, Los Angeles, CA 9–13 Apr.

2012 Sammler, K. Redolent of Spheres: On Ocean Law and Sovereignty. Association of Pacific Coast Geographers, Olympia, WA 3–6 Oct.

Posters Presented

2015 Sammler, K. New waves in the ocean: environmental governance challenges of seabed mining in the Pacific. Presented at multiple University of Arizona outreach events: Graduate and Professional Student Council: Student Showcase, 23 Oct.; Institute of the Environment: Grad Blitz, 3 Nov.; Graduate InterDisciplinary Program: Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis, 10 Dec.