2012 Sammler, K. Redolent of Spheres: On Ocean Law and Sovereignty. Association of Pacific Coast Geographers, Olympia, WA 3–6 Oct.
ABSTRACT: In an attempt to codify amorphous and smooth ocean space, the United Nation’s Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) adapted customary law into a standardized assemblage of oddly striated jurisdictions extending from shore: Territorial Waters, the Contiguous Zone, the Exclusive Economic Zone, extended Continental Shelves, and High Seas or international waters. The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), a candid designation for this seazone, poses interesting questions concerning sovereignty and liability. The United States EEZ is the largest in the world and encloses an area larger than that of the continental U.S. In this space, a coastal state exercises “sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living” (UNCLOS, 1982).
While the U.S. has not yet ratified this treaty, it has adopted most sections, which oblige each coastal state to promote the “objective of optimum utilization“ of marine resources. While optimum utilization inevitability requires reasonable stewardship, the vast expanse of the EEZ, constantly flowing over its boundaries, resists direct state surveillance, ergo enforcement. Neither the U.S. nor the United Nations demonstrates the ability to acknowledge the sea beyond it’s potential for optimum exploitation. One manifestation of the state’s inability to fully capture or render legible ocean space is the North Pacific Trash Gyre (NPTG). The NPTG is a collection of debris that travels with prevailing winds with no regard for legal boundaries. Marine debris is one of the most pervasive pollution problems affecting our oceans with “roughly 6.4 million tons of debris is added to the seas every year” (Watson, 2012). The large majority of which is from land-based activities; dumping, littering, and infrastructure leakage. This paper will draw on state theory to examine ocean territory, sovereignty and statecraft in the Pacific.
Association of Pacific Coast Geographers – Women’s Network, $200.