(Un)claiming rights, resources, and ocean spaces: Marine genetic resources and area-based management tools in high seas governance negotiations

Authors: Emily C Melvin*, University of Southern Mississippi, Leslie Acton, University of Southern Mississippi, Lisa M Campbell, Duke University
Topics: Marine and Coastal Resources, Coastal and Marine, Political Geography
Keywords: ocean space, ocean governance, international negotiations, biodiversity, areas beyond national jurisdiction
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


After years of informal efforts, the parties to UNCLOS have begun to negotiate an internationally legally binding instrument to address governance gaps that have impeded attempts to conserve biodiversity in the high seas and the Area (collectively, areas beyond national jurisdiction or ABNJ). Though these discussions ostensibly seek to address the biodiversity crisis, states have used negotiations to advance competing claims regarding rights of access, ownership, and control of ocean territory and its resources. This paper examines how states and other participants have conceptualized ocean space in negotiations regarding area-based management tools (ABMTs) and marine genetic resources (MGRs) at the first three intergovernmental conferences regarding biodiversity in the ABNJ. ABMTs, which have become widespread tools in governing ocean space, are often assumed to have static boundaries that can be defined for management. By contrast, MGRs are novel objects of management that the parties recognize as mobile and crossing jurisdictional boundaries, giving parties the opportunity to invoke three-dimensional and dynamic space in making competing claims to these resources. This analysis reveals that understandings of and claims to “the common heritage of mankind” vs. “the freedom of the seas” remain unsettled as parties negotiate competing rights to ocean spaces and resources.

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