How does the vertical dimension of ocean space serve to destabilize previous definitions, understandings, and practices of sovereignty and territory? The creeping expansion of national jurisdictions into the ocean was secured when the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) came into force in 1994. This subsumption of vast zones of ocean space into State space required the creation of new territorial categories. Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) extended land borders and accompanying terrestrial imaginaries 200 nautical miles (nm) perpendicular from shore, tracing political lines onto the surface of ocean waters. Extended Continental Shelves (ECSs) goes beyond the planar, as its definition is not simply a matter of distance from shore, but involves precise calculations and formulations of the deep, to determine which seabeds beyond 200 nm are the “submerged prolongation of the land mass of the coastal State.”
As a way of dealing with the challenging material conditions and various desired uses of ocean space, UNCLOS focused sovereignty, rights, and responsibilities within the EEZs and ECSs on various coveted resources at different distances or depths, as opposed to managing the volumetric space with any coherent vision. These UN ocean zones are still being calculated, written, and enacted at the national level. In practice, national implementation allows multiple uses to be stacked on top of one another, opening up ocean space to a regulatory patchwork in both the horizontal and vertical. This paper will explore ocean territory through emerging legislation and regulation, utilizing New Zealand as a case study.