Large Ocean States: Producing Territory and Sovereignty through Large-Scale Marine Conservation

Authors: Noella Gray*, University of Guelph, Leslie Acton, Colorado State University, Lisa Campbell, Duke University, Rebecca Gruby, Colorado State University, Sarah Bess Zigler, Duke University, Luke Fairbanks, Colorado State University, Lillian Mitchell, University of Guelph, Evan Artis, University of Guelph
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Political Geography, Pacific Islands
Keywords: conservation, territoriality, marine protected area, sovereignty, geopolitical ecology, ocean
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Studio 6, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Protected areas are, by definition, projects of territorialization – efforts to assert control over space by drawing boundaries and defining access to, rights within, and meanings of the spaces enclosed within those boundaries. Marine protected areas (MPAs) have played an important role in the increasing territorialization of the ocean, as total ocean area under protected status has increased more than fivefold in the past ten years. Large MPAs (sites > 100,000km2) are a particularly noteworthy part of this process; just ten LMPAs account for more than 80% of global MPA coverage. What are the consequences of this territorialization process? Proponents argue that LMPAs are critical for global marine conservation efforts, protecting entire ecosystems in a cost-effective manner. Critics suggest LMPAs facilitate ‘ocean grabbing’, social injustices, and geopolitical efforts to control ocean space, particularly as Small Island Developing States recast themselves as ‘large ocean states’. This paper engages political ecologies of conservation as well as political geographies of territory and sovereignty to interrogate the effects of large-scale marine conservation. Drawing on the results of a multi-site study of five LMPAs, including more than 300 key informant interviews and participant observation in Palau, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (US territories), Kiribati, Bermuda, and Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile), this paper explores the contested process of territorialization at sea. Both state and non-state actors engage techniques of representation and control to produce territory through LMPAs. In the process, LMPAs are re-working ideas of state sovereignty in ocean space.

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