The Law of the Sea: An indivisible Ecological Whole?

This discussion topic submitted by Karen Miksch ( at 2:49 pm on 5/10/99. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014.

Instead of treating the ocean as "an indivisible ecological whole" the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) partitioned it--horizontally, vertically, and functionally. The Law of the Sea divides the oceans into international, regional, national and private areas with no centralized control over them and no comprehensive plan for the preservation of the marine environment. Elizabeth Mann Borgese, a leader in the development of the Law of the Sea, notes that the current convention is inadequate to ensure long-term protection for the marine environment, although it does represent modest progress.

Although the United Nations has declared that the sea bed and ocean floor are part of the "common heritage of mankind," UNCLOS III entitles states to Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ), within which a country has rights "for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the sea-bed and subsoil." Since most the countries who have gained maritime territory via EEZ's were already wealthy (the United States gained the largest territory) it is unlikely that the creation of the EEZ will contribute materially to the reduction of the gap between rich and poor, or to the wise preservaton of the sea as "an indivisible ecological whole."

International and domestic law and policy are intergral to understanding potential long-term strategies to preserve and protect the marine enviornment. I plan to give a brief overview of the international law of the sea, including a discussion of the territorial sea, EEZ's, and the continental shelf. I will also discuss international law governing Archipelagic States (includes the Bahamas) and the current environmental provisions in the law of the sea. Ultimately, I hope that as a group we can discuss potential strategies to preserve marine systems.

I. The Law of the Sea: Basic Overview of U.N Conferences

A. The Territorial Sea: historical context and definition
B. Archipelagic States and Islands: Historical context and definitions
C. Exclusive Economic Zone: Political Ramifications
D. The Continental Shelf

II. Preservation of the Marine Environment

A. UNCLOS III and International Law
B. The Law of Caribbean Marine Polution

III. Potential Policy Strategies to Preserve the Marine Environment

Preliminary Source List:


Anderson, Winston. The Law of Caribbean Marine Pollution, London: Kluwer Law International, 1997.

Attard, David Joseph. The Exclusive Economic Zone in International Law. Oxford Univ Press. 1987.

Churchill, Robin R. and Alan V. Lowe. The Law of the Sea. 2nd ed. Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press. 1988.

Churchill, Robin R and Geir Ulfstein. Marine Management in Disputed Areas. London: Routledge. 1992.

David, Steven R and Peter Digeser. The United States and the Law of the Sea Treaty. Lanham, MD: Univ. Press of America. 1990.

Jayewardene, Hiran W. The Regime of Islands in International Law. Dordrecht: Nijhoff. 1990.

Kindt, John Warren. Marine Pollution and the Law of the Sea. BUffalo: Hein, 1986-88.

Knight, Gary and Hungdah Chui. The International Law of the Sea: Cases, Documents and Readings. New York: Elsevier, 1991.

Meng, Quing-nan. Land-Based Marine Pollution: International Law Development. Boston: Nijhoff, 1989.

Munavvar,Mohamed. Ocean States: Archipelagic Regimes in the Law of the Sea. Kluwer. 1995.

Van Dyke, Jon M. and others (eds.). Freedom for the Seas in the 21st Century: Ocean Governance and Environmental Harmony. Covelo, CA: Island Press, 1993.


Boczek, Boleslaw A., "Global and Regional Approaches to the Protection and Preservation of the Marine Environment," 16 Case Western Reserve J. of Int'l Law 39 (1984).

Boyle, Alan E. "Marine Pollution under the Law of the Sea Convention," 79:2 Amer. J. of Int'l Law, Vol. 321 (1985).

Carnegie, A.R. The Law of the Sea: Commonwealth Caribbean Perspectives," 36:3 Social and Econ. Studies, 99 (1987).

Menefee, Samuel Pyeatt, "Republics of the Reefs: Nation-Building on the Continental Shelf and in the World's Oceans," 25 Cal. W. Int'l L.J. 81 (Fall 1994).

Ring, David A, "Sustainability Dynamics: Land-Based Marine Pollution and Development Priorities in the Island States of the Commonwealth of the Caribbean," 22 Colum. J. Envtl. L. 65 (1997).

Taitt, Branford, M., "The Exclusive Economic Zone: A Caribbean Perspective, 7 West Indian L. J., 36 (May 1983).

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