The Functional Territorialization of the High Seas
Daniel Lambach (University of Frankfurt, email@example.com)*
The governance of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) is shifting. As governance institutions
expand and thicken, we see a multiplication of functional spaces governing conservation, the
sustainable use of marine resources, and safety at sea in ABNJ. In contrast to enclosure approaches,
which focus on economic exploitation in near-shore areas, this paper uses the concept of functional
territorialization to survey and describe the many ways how the high seas are being territorialized. It
argues that this drive to territorialize the high seas is not primarily due to a particular effectiveness of
area-based management tools but is driven by deeper-lying trends towards the managerialization or
‘taming’ of maritime spaces to make them safe for human activity and exploitation. The future of the
oceans will be a polycentric patchwork of functional governance areas.
Territorialization; Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction; Enclosure; Ocean Governance
Declarations of interest
* The author is indebted to Anja Menzel for helpful comments and Carlo Diehl for editorial assistance. Work on
this paper was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG, Grant no. 1847/LA 11-1).
The governance of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) is undergoing a slow but fundamental
change. Historically, ABNJ were only thinly governed through a set of blanket principles like the
freedom of navigation, anti-piracy norms and an obligation to render assistance to mariners in distress.
But since the mid-20th century, as governance institutions have expanded and thickened, ABNJ have
transformed into a patchwork of functional territories regulating conservation, the sustainable use of
marine resources, and safety at sea. Ryan (2019), Østhagen (2020) and Glassner (1990) show that the
creation of territories on the oceans has a long history, with early examples of informal territories
being replaced with progressively more institutionalized ones. At first glance, it might seem like ABNJ
are following the same trajectory as near-shore areas, where the creation, and later expansion of the
territorial sea and the creation of EEZs in the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) placed
‘(m)ore than one-third of the area of the world's oceans and seas […] within territorial jurisdictions’
(Ball 1996: 97). However, territories in ABNJ are not sovereign territories of the state but functional in
that they only confer limited rights and responsibilities to governing states that fall far short of full
jurisdiction. How can we account for this transformation?
Previous literature has used the concept of enclosure to describe processes of maritime space-making.
In a recent article, Fairbanks et al. (2018), building on Friedheim (1992), argue that the oceans are
currently undergoing a ‘third phase’ of enclosure. With the first phase referring to the legal
institutionalization of territorial seas and the second to the creation of Exclusive Economic Zones
(EEZs), the third phase consists of changes in the economic geography and the use of the oceans.
Fairbanks et al. highlight the emergence of Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) and practices of ‘ocean
grabbing’ as key characteristics of the third phase. These developments, coupled with an
unprecedented growth in spatial knowledge about the oceans, have led to a regime of ocean
governance ‘where resources and their utilization are geocoded, multiple and disparate marine uses
are weighed against each other, spatial tradeoffs are made, and exclusive rights to areas and resources
are established’ (Boucquey et al. 2019: 485).
This paper argues that the notion of enclosure – while a useful element of our conceptual apparatus –
is not well suited to explain the territorialization of ABNJ. First, the enclosure literature focuses mostly
on changes within national waters, especially the growth of MSP instruments in territorial seas and
EEZs. Second, the causal narrative these works give is too narrowly focused on the economic
dimensions of transformation and sometimes downplays its cultural and political aspects.
Instead of enclosure, this paper proposes that we should describe the ongoing transformation of ABNJ
governance in terms of territorialization. Of course, speaking of territory requires some qualifications
itself. In the context of this paper, territory should not be read as sovereign state territory (as used,
e.g., by Østhagen 2020) but in the broader sense generally used in critical geography: as bounded and
controlled space (Paasi 2003). To highlight this difference, I speak of functional territorialization,
indicating that maritime space is parceled into territories that are then administered and controlled by
states (or groups of states), intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) or other competent actors, but
are not incorporated into a state’s national waters. This analytical move from enclosure to
territorialization broadens our view to the creation of functional areas that cover ABNJ and whose
primary purpose is not the privatization of property rights.
This paper builds upon enclosure theories in arguing that economic incentives are part of an
explanation of the larger process of territorialization. Other elements driving this process include
advances in marine sciences and technologies that make control over larger and more remote spaces
possible, leading to a growth of territories in ABNJ. These territories are created to serve particular
purposes in the fields of conservation, the sustainable use of marine resources and safety at sea.
However, while some of these territories only have a limited effectiveness towards these goals, they
are also part of a secular project of ‘taming’ the oceans by making them legible as spaces and resources
to be controlled and exploited. Territorialization is an expression of changing relations between
humanity and the oceans. In addition, it will itself contribute to furthering these changes. For one,
territories are built on principles like rationality, legibility and control, making them good examples of
the managerialization of the natural world. For another, territorialization is almost irreversible. Once
a territory has been established, states and private actors are very unlikely to give up their rights and
privileges. The high seas are in the process of becoming a polycentric patchwork of partly overlapping
This paper proceeds by first introducing the notion of territorialization and delimiting it from the
concept of enclosure. It then demonstrates the creeping territorialization of ABNJ by surveying
functional territories that (at least in part) cover ABNJ and describing their geographical coverage and
evolution over time. In the final part, it offers an inductive explanation of this process that brings
together cultural, economic and political drivers with technological affordances.
Enclosure is a widely used concept to describe and explain the creation of maritime spaces (Ball 1996;
Fairbanks et al. 2018; Mansfield 2004; McCormack 2017; Pontecorvo 1988; Watt 1979) although
authors attach different meanings to it. The first meaning, especially prevalent in older works, uses
enclosure to describe placing areas of the ocean under state jurisdiction (Watt 1979; Pontecorvo 1988;
Zacher and McConnell 1990). These enclosures are characterized by hard boundaries and broad
powers of states to exclude others from these spaces, although state authority is not necessarily
sovereign (as in EEZs).
The second meaning comes from a Marxist tradition and refers to the privatization, commodification
and valorization of common-pool resources (Fairbanks et al. 2018; Boucquey et al. 2019). There,
enclosure is a technique of capitalism with the state a facilitator of this process. In this approach,
enclosure is not limited to state-level territorial expansion but also captures dynamics of spatial
rearrangement at the micro- and meso-level, such as MSP, the expansion of aquaculture, and the use
of Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs) in fisheries management. In contrast to the first meaning, this
On the notion of polycentric governance see Ostrom (2010).
approach to enclosure focuses less on drawing hard boundaries but on creating ways of propertizing
maritime resources through the management of spatial relations (McCormack 2017; Mansfield 2004).
Works in these traditions have been helpful in illuminating shifts in how human societies use and
manage the oceans. But enclosure theories have limitations when applied to ABNJ. First, such
approaches focus on the transformation of near-shore areas even though the high seas are undergoing
a comparable process, as the review below will make clear. Second, the focus on the economic
exploitation of oceanic resources is somewhat narrow and glosses over territories that are not
designed for economic appropriation. Instead, this paper argues that the neoliberalization of the
oceans is part of a wider realignment in human-ocean relations that aims to make the oceans
governable, legible and ultimately safe for human activity and exploitation. Third, they position
enclosure as the antithesis of the commons. Following Ostrom (2010: 651), the commons represent a
bundle of property rights and the creation of territories only affects some of these rights. Speaking in
terms of enclosure suggests that the entire bundle of rights is changed to a private or centralized model
but as we see in ABNJ, the creation of territories attenuates but does not abolish the global commons
nature of the high seas.
To avoid overly stretching the meaning of enclosure, we should instead use the notion of
territorialization to describe the more general phenomenon of space-making on the oceans. Enclosure,
in this understanding, would refer to a more specific phenomenon of territorialization for the purposes
of primitive accumulation and management of natural resources.
Territories, in contrast, are sections
of space that are transformed by power and expressed in boundaries, symbols, institutions, discourse
and practice (Paasi 2003). Territory should not be seen as synonymous with sovereign statehood but
can be applied to a wide range of social situations (Agnew 1994; Antonsich 2009). Territories shape
social action but are themselves the outcomes of social processes (Popescu 2010). In this sense, when
this paper refers to the territorialization of the oceans, this term should more properly be understood
Other authors have advanced different conceptualizations of territory and capitalist appropriation (Campling
and Colás 2017; Foley and Mather 2019).
as the deterritorialization of an old order heavily based on notions of the ‘freedom of the seas’ and its
ongoing reterritorialization in a more complex hybrid that blends together aspects of the mare liberum
with a patchwork of functional territories in ABNJ and national waters in near-shore areas.
The phrase ‘functional territory’ is chosen to highlight the non-sovereign nature of ABNJ territories
created for specific governance purposes.
The process of territorialization in ABNJ is arguably different
from the territorialization of national waters: in the latter, states made jurisdictional claims that were
institutionalized through UNCLOS. In the former, the possibility of territorialization is only created
through international agreements and organizations that then confer specific, limited rights and
responsibilities to states and other actors. Nongovernmental organizations and epistemic communities
are also playing a more influential role in the conceptual development and empirical designation of
some more recent functional territories.
Territories in ABNJ Governance
As humanity has ‘discovered’ the high seas, territories have become a frequently used method of
governing the oceans even beyond national waters. Using a broad range of indicators, Merrie et al.
(2014) demonstrate that the human use of ABNJ has expanded considerably over time. They also note
that the number of international governance instruments regulating activity in ABNJ keeps growing
(see Table 1). The 2000s, the most recent complete decade in their survey, saw a push of ABNJ law-
making at almost twice the rate of the 1970s (see also Ardron et al. 2014).
Table 1: Number of new ABNJ governance instruments (‘directives’) per decade
Source: Data drawn from Merrie et al. (2014: 20, Fig. 1).
This is not to deny that such functional territories can also become entangled with sovereign claims (De Santo
2020; Trevisanut 2010).
Territorialization features prominently as an instrument in many of these directives and in high-profile
deliberations about ocean governance. For instance, in the Call to Action of the 2017 UN Ocean
Conference, the international community endorsed ‘the use of effective and appropriate area-based
management tools, including marine protected areas and other integrated, cross-sectoral approaches,
including marine spatial planning and integrated coastal zone management’ (United Nations General
Assembly 2017: para. 13(j)). Target 11 of the 2010 Conference of Parties to the Convention on
Biological Diversity (CBD) was to make 10 percent of the oceans into effectively managed Marine
Protected Areas (MPAs) by 2020. The notion of MSP has also featured prominently in the negotiations
about the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) treaty since then. Table 2 presents an
overview of functional territories at least partly covering ABNJ that are used by existing institutions of
[Table 2 about here]
Territories are used for three purposes: conservation and environmental protection (MARPOL Special
Areas, IWC Whaling Sanctuaries, EBSAs, VMEs, LMEs, APEIs), governing access to and safeguarding the
sustainable use of resources (Regional Seas, RFBs, ISA exploration contracts), and providing public
goods to increase safety at sea (NAVAREAs, METAREAs, SRRs, Sea Areas, LRIT DDP). It is important to
note that none of these instruments has ever been retired. In those few instances where a territory
has been dissolved, it was only to be immediately recreated in some new form (e.g. the 1959 North-
This review excludes three forms of territories for practical reasons: First, zones that are solely used for
statistical purposes, such as FAO Major Fishing Areas. This is not to say that such statistical and scientific
zones are apolitical. Far from it – statistics are used to inform politics and the boundaries of statistical zones
are affected by regulatory and administrative concerns. Second, areas that are solely used in national waters,
like zoning for offshore wind farms in a country’s EEZ or Vessel Traffic Services, Traffic Separation Schemes
and similar forms of routeing (Peters 2019). This includes territories that may span across different countries’
national waters, like the IMO’s Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas. Third, airspace territories like Flight
Information Regions and Air Defense Identification Zones.
East Atlantic Fisheries Convention was superseded by the 1980 North East Atlantic Fisheries
Commission, both covering exactly the same area). Once a functional territory has been created, it
Many of the territories collected in Table 2 cover both national waters and ABNJ, although some of
them are more often used in the former. Figure 1 depicts the balance between national waters and
ABNJ in the geographical coverage of a territory. These are rough estimates about where a particular
kind of territory is sited in practice, since the national waters/ABNJ distinction usually is not explicitly
addressed in the conventions and resolutions creating these territories.
Figure 1: Geographical coverage of territories
Table 2 also shows a growth of territories in ABNJ governance since the 1970s. Figure 2 shows that
most examples cluster in the 1970s and the 2000s, paralleling the two peaks in Table 1. There seems
to be a correlation between when a territory was established and its geographical coverage, with more
recent territories being more readily applied to ABNJ.
Figure 2: Timeline of functional territories involving ABNJ
Beyond the continuous invention of new territories, there are also many examples of existing
instruments being enlarged and used more often since then. Haas et al. (2020: 2) highlight the creation
of five new RFMOs between 2004 and 2015. MARPOL Special Areas also continue to be created or
expanded in scope. In addition, the system of NAVAREAs and METAREAs was expanded to cover the
Arctic Ocean through the creation of NAVAREAs/METAREAs XVII-XXI in 2010.
Over time, there is a discernible shift concerning the centrality of states in these institutions. In earlier
territories, states or regional organizations were directly responsible for the management of these
areas. For instance, RFBs, Regional Seas and the IWC are organized as IGOs, the responsibility to
maintain NAVAREAs and SRRs falls to individual states and MARPOL assigns duties to states parties. In
contrast, more recent territories, especially those created for conservation purposes (EBSAs, LMEs),
give more authority to international organizations, nongovernmental organizations and epistemic
communities of ocean scientists who jointly or individually develop criteria for the designation of areas.
Explaining the Territorialization of ABNJ
How can we explain this territorialization of the high seas? It might be that territorialization is popular
because it works. The literatures on institutional isomorphism (DiMaggio and Powell 1983) and
organizational learning (Siebenhüner 2008) have long shown that actors and institutions copy
‘successful’ approaches from each other. Such policy diffusion has also been extensively documented
in marine governance (e.g. Merrie and Olsson 2014; Söderström and Kern 2017). However, it is unclear
whether territories can be considered a particularly ‘successful’ instrument of ocean governance.
There are no comprehensive reviews but works on MPAs, RFMOs, LMEs, Regional Seas, EBSAs and
VMEs raise doubts as to the effectiveness of these conservation and resource use territories (Edgar et
al. 2014; Ban et al. 2017; Rochette et al. 2014; Rochette et al. 2015; Haas et al. 2020; Johnson et al.
2018; Auster et al. 2010). In contrast, most of the territories designed for improving safety at sea work
very well. NAVAREAs, METAREAs, Sea Areas and the LRIT DDP need little investment to produce an
appreciable output. SRR require states to build up Search and Rescue (SAR) capabilities but this is
usually not particularly contentious because the provision of SAR services does not have to be balanced
against the interests of other actors.
This seems like the most salient difference – sustainable resource
use and conservation necessarily impinge on the interests of politically influential fisheries and
shipping industries, limiting states’ willingness to create strong and effective territories for this
But I argue that asking about the effectiveness of enclosure is somewhat beside the point – territories
‘work’ even when they do not fulfill their ostensible purpose. In other words, territories are not, or at
least not only, created to protect the environment or provide safety at sea but to offer a semblance of
order and rationality to an environment that is innately associated with fluidity, disorder and danger
(Steinberg and Peters 2015). Hence, I argue that the expansion of territorialization has cultural,
economic and political drivers which are closely intertwined. This argument, while made with
reference to ABNJ, could also be extended to cover the enclosure of territorial waters.
One obvious exception is the Mediterranean where SAR is embroiled in politically charged debates about
migration and human trafficking (Cusumano 2017).
In cultural terms, human-ocean relations have been changing (Steinberg 2001). Before the
Enlightenment, European thought portrayed the sea as demonic, inhospitable and dangerous. This
view shifted in the 18th and 19th century, ‘instigated by a rise in long-distance voyaging that required
the representation of the ocean as an abstract space rather than as a myth-infused menace’ (Carroll
2015: 77). The oceans became the medium through which colonial wealth could be pursued, requiring
a more abstract and dispassionate way of interacting with them. As new technologies improved the
navigability of the high seas, the ocean was reinterpreted ‘as a physical and intellectual space full of
imperial and commercial significance’ (Reidy and Rozwadowski 2014: 339). With the emergence of
oceanography, hydrography and bathymetry as scientific disciplines, the ocean no longer represented
the sublime but a knowable and measurable entity. Over time, it became seen not just as a transit
medium but as a space to be controlled in its own right. This is the cultural root of the contemporary
territorialization of the oceans.
From this emerges an imperative to make the sea safe for human activity and exploitation. Ryan refers
to this as ‘zoning’, a progressive managerialization of the oceans that he describes as a practice ‘that
seeks to gentrify rural and wilderness sea-spaces’ (Ryan 2015: 570) by creating ‘a global network of
secured zones that act as rational hubs of wealth creation and environmental management in the
maritime sphere’ (Ryan 2015: 580; also McCormack 2017). Technocratic governance solutions like MSP
are a prime expression of this imperative. In spite of its participatory pretensions, MSP represents a
managerial approach to fundamentally political issues. This kind of ‘post-political planning’ (Flannery,
Healy, and Luna 2018: 32) of the seas is dependent on an unprecedented growth of knowledge
production about the ‘new world ocean: an ocean of data, a digital doppelganger for the wet and wild
ocean out there, an ocean made informational’ (Lehman 2016: 113). This is making the ocean ‘legible’,
to use James Scott’s term about the age-old aim of statecraft (Scott 1998), and accessible to broader
segments of humanity.
In the economic dimension, as the oceans have become an object that can be controlled people have
sought ways to commoditize them. Capitalism views ‘empty’ spaces like the high seas as sources of
underutilized resources that must be valorized through enclosure (Sevilla-Buitrago 2015). As the social
theorist Henri Lefebvre puts it, capitalism depends on ‘the pulverization of space by private property,
the demand for interchangeable fragments, and the scientific and technical (informational) capacity to
treat space on ever more vast levels’ (Lefebvre 2009: 189). This is a recurring dynamic on the oceans
(Campling and Colás 2017; Fairbanks et al. 2018). By breaking oceanic space into abstract
‘interchangeable fragments’, ocean governance fulfills both the cultural imperative of ‘taming’ the
ocean and the economic rationale of making it ready for commercial exploitation. Some authors,
mostly economists, advocate for a further privatization of the oceans, ostensibly to allow for more
sustainable management of marine resources (Hannesson 2004; Motichek, Block, and Johnson 2008).
In contrast, the burgeoning literatures on ‘ocean grabbing’ and ‘blue grabbing’ take a critical approach
to this discourse, albeit mostly referring to spaces inside national waters (Bennett, Govan, and
Satterfield 2015; Foley and Mather 2019) although, for instance, Zalik (2018) uses these concepts to
discuss the politics of undersea mining.
Politically, territories are useful because they make control over ocean space possible. This works most
obviously for states who can leverage a claim over functional spaces to support other territorial claims.
Manicom refers to this as ‘creeping jurisdiction’, i.e. ‘the thickening of state sovereignty over ocean
areas where state jurisdiction is incomplete’ (Manicom 2011: 336). For example, Turkey, Greece and
Cyprus regularly link national SRR and LRIT Data Distribution claims to their competing territorial
aspirations in the Aegean Sea (Trevisanut 2010). De Santo (2020) shows how the installation of Large-
Scale MPAs in British and French overseas territories is tied into extended continental shelf claims of
the two countries.
But states also profit from control over maritime territories in ABNJ, where they
make no jurisdictional claims. Again, the (non-)provision of SAR services in parts of the Mediterranean
by littoral states showcases how functional territories can be leveraged for political goals while the
LRIT DDP can be used to surveil maritime traffic far beyond national waters. However, functional
See also the Security Studies literature on how great powers use area control and area denial strategies in
commanding the global maritime commons (e.g. Posen 2003; Bedford and Giarra 2010)
territories are not just useful for states. International organizations and NGOs, too, make arguments
over authority based on spatial constructions, e.g. by using conservation territories as a discursive
resource in political deliberations (see, e.g., Pew Charitable Trusts 2017) or by installing themselves as
the administrator or arbitrator in the identification of these territories (see the role of International
Seabed Authority in granting exploration licences and designating APEIs).
These three factors – a cultural shift in how humanity relates to the oceans, economic imperatives to
exploit marine resources, and the political benefits of territorialization and area control – jointly
explain why we are seeing more and more functional territories governing different issues in ABNJ. But
given that these factors are relatively time-invariant, why are we only witnessing a growth of
territorialization over the past fifty years? Partly, this growth can be attributed to a normative shift.
The freedom of the seas, long championed by the great powers, has lost some of its discursive
hegemony (Zacher and McConnell 1990) and is only minimally impeded by functional spaces which
impose few constraints on freedom of navigation.
But the more important change has been in science and technology which have made cost-effective
control over those spaces possible in the first place (Buck 1998). As our knowledge of the oceans (about
resource overuse, fish stocks, the geography of the oceans, the ecological impact of human activity
etc.) has grown, we are able to develop better and more accurate ways of surveilling and measuring
the seas (Houghton and Rochette 2014: 81). This is most clearly visible in systems like the LRIT or the
GMDSS, which require specific technological capabilities to be viable in the first place, but also in
geographic information systems and ocean data portals (Gray 2018). For example, De Santo (2018: 41)
recounts how large MPAs in remote areas are dependent on affordances created by the use of satellite
imaging and data from the Automatic Identification System (AIS) that all ships with 300 or more gross
tonnage carry. More generally, Knol speaks of a ‘spatial turn in marine governance [which] manifests
itself in an increasing focus on area-based management, which is made possible and reflected by new
(mapping) technologies’ (Knol 2011: 981). This argument also offers an explanation why scientists,
NGOs and IGOs are becoming more influential in ocean governance because these actors typically work
as knowledge hubs in governance networks by contributing and organizing technical expertise (Barnett
and Finnemore 2004).
Conclusion: Towards a territorialized ocean
This paper has highlighted the growth of functional territories as area-based management tools in
ABNJ. It has argued that discussing this phenomenon in terms of enclosure limits our attention to the
economic exploitation of oceanic resources when enclosure is arguably part of a larger process of
‘taming’ the ocean. Moreover, focusing on the effectiveness of these tools, as most research does,
brackets out some of the reasons why they are created in the first place. Recent creations of territories
seem more driven by non-state actors than states, indicating a more polycentric approach to ocean
governance that nevertheless still relies on the territorialization of maritime space. Putting a new kind
of territory on the map ‘makes a statement’ and creates a symbolic reference point in inter-
organizational debates. In addition, the mere creation of a territory is already a competent
performance. Finally, territories play a crucial role in making the oceans more legible and manageable,
and can be leveraged to undergird authority claims in particular areas or debates.
This process of territorialization, which near-shore areas have already undergone, will slowly but
irrevocably transform ABNJ. Once created, territorialized spaces stick around. At most, there will be
some harmonization between enclosures as happened e.g. with the merger of NAVAREAs and
METAREAs or between SRR and Flight Information Regions. In addition, new instruments for functional
territorialization will emerge. The BBNJ treaty, which was supposed to be finalized in 2020, will contain
provisions for creating MPAs and other kinds of area-based management on the high seas, a legal
instrument that had hitherto been missing. In addition, UNESCO, which has already identified 49
marine areas in national waters as World Heritage Sites, is currently exploring possibilities for
designating Heritage Sites in ABNJ (Freestone et al. 2016). The creation of ever more territories does
not mean that the high seas cease to be a global commons but the precise nature of the commons will
not remain unaffected. With the process of territorialization unlikely to wane, the future of the oceans
is likely to be a polycentric patchwork of functional governance areas.
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Table 2: Types of Territories in ABNJ
Created / administered by
Purpose and use
MPAs are a special case
because they are not a
standardized and centrally
administered kind of area
but more of a concept.
The Garden of Tane in
Akaroa (NZ) is the oldest
marine MPA in the UNEP-
WCMC dataset, established
as a Scenic Reserve in 1883.
The main purpose of MPAs is conservation but Roberts et al. (2017) highlight the
additional role of MPAs in mitigating and adapting to the impact of climate change.
MPAtlas.org lists 15,234 designated MPAs.
Ten areas were adopted in
the initial International
Convention for the
Prevention of Pollution from
Ships (MARPOL) in 1973.
The IMO identifies certain zones as Special Areas which need special protection from
pollution by oil, noxious liquid substances, sewage, garbage and air pollution from ships.
24 Special Areas have been identified, although not all of them are currently in effect
because coastal MARPOL Parties have not built appropriate reception facilities.
Indian Ocean Sanctuary
The IWC has established two sanctuaries where all commercial whaling is banned. A
proposal for a third sanctuary is under discussion.
Concept was first
developed by the US
National Oceanic and
The Global Environment
Facility (GEF) is providing
funding for LMEs since
NOAA scientists identified
the first ‘official’ LMEs in
1986, e.g. the US Northeast
Continental Shelf, and the
Antarctic Marine (Sherman
and Duda 1999).
LMEs were developed to apply an ecosystem-based approach to the marine and coastal
environment. GEF financing brings LMEs into the environmental planning processes. The
UN Development Programme (UNDP) and Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission
of UNESCO have also adopted LMEs as a planning approach.
Due to the higher productivity of coastal waters, most LMEs are only situated in national
waters. According to lmehub.net there are currently 66 LMEs.
Concept was developed by
the UN General Assembly
(Res. 61/105) in 2006; the
for the Management of
Deep-sea Fisheries in the
High Seas of the Food and
(FAO) provide regulatory
Some deep-sea areas had
been closed for fishing
under RFMOs prior to 2006
(e.g. various areas under the
North East Atlantic Fisheries
Commission or the CCMLR)
and were later folded into
the VME concept.
VMEs are supposed to protect vulnerable areas from adverse impacts of bottom fishing.
See Rice et al. (2014) for a comparison of VMEs and EBSAs. Different RFMOs use different
indicators and terminologies, including for what counts as 'deep sea' (Caddell 2016: 33-
34) for classifying areas as VME.
Organizations (RFMOs) are
responsible for identifying
VMEs in their region.
Convention on Biological
In 2010-2014, the first 204
areas were identified as
EBSAs (Dunstan et al. 2016:
The purpose of EBSAs is to identify areas in ABNJ requiring special protection to set
priorities for Aichi Target 11. The identification of an EBSA does not imply any particular
regulatory measure, but EBSAs are supposed to ‘support and encourage the use of area-
based management tools’ (Johnson et al. 2018: 75).
The number of EBSAs keeps rising. In 2017 there were 279 EBSAs, the current number
exceeds 320 (http://gobi.org/ebsas/).
With the adoption of the
Plan (EMP) for the Clarion-
Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in
As part of its EMP for the CCZ, the ISA designated nine APEIs of 160,000 km2 each,
covering a total of 24% of the CCZ. The ISA is currently considering EMPs for other
regions, so the number of APEIs is expected to rise as these processes move forward.
Sustainable Use of Marine Resources Territories
Some RFB are established
under the FAO Convention
(1945), others use the FAO
as a depositary. Some
were established and exist
outside the FAO
1948 Asia-Pacific Fishery
under FAO Convention Art.
RFBs work for the conservation and sustainable use of marine living resources and/or
development of fisheries. RFMOs are a subset of RFBs.
The zones covered by RFBs may include both high seas and national waters.
The number of RFBs is unclear. The FAO lists 62 ‘RFBs and aquaculture networks’ on their
website. Rochette et al. (2015: 10-11) identify 41 marine RFBs, 21 of which are RFMOs (as
of 2014). Haas et al. (2020) speak of 13 RFMOs with the ability to produce binding
The Regional Seas
Programme (RSP) was
initiated in 1974 by the UN
(UNEP). UNEP administers
seven of 18 Regional Seas,
the others have
or are administered by
The Barcelona Convention
(1976) for the
‘partner’ programs that are
associated with the RSP
(OSPAR/NE Atlantic 1974,
Baltic Sea 1974,
have earlier roots.
Regional Seas are supposed to facilitate environmental assessment and management of
shared maritime spaces among countries in a region. Most Regional Seas only cover
coastal areas up to the outer limits of EEZs. The Antarctic, Mediterranean, North-East
Atlantic, South Pacific and South-East Pacific regional systems also cover ABNJ.
There are 18 Regional Seas, seven of them administered by UNEP, the others elsewhere.
The ISA is responsible for
the seabed in ABNJ (‘the
Area’). States are
responsible for granting
exploitation rights over
the seabed in their EEZ
and extended continental
The first seven 15-year
exploration contracts were
signed in 2001/02, six of
them in the CCZ.
The ISA was established to organize, regulate and control all mineral-related activities in
the international seabed area beyond ABNJ. It awards exploration contracts in designated
parts of the Area.
To date, ISA has approved 30 contracts for exploration involving 22 different countries
and covering more than 1.3 million square kilometers of the seabed. This represents 0.7
percent of the international deep seabed area and 0.3 percent of the world’s oceans.
Safety at Sea Territories
Administered by the IMO
in cooperation with the
(IHO). Within each
NAVAREA one particular
country is tasked with
providing a point of
First set out in 1977 at the
Hydrographic Conference of
the IHO and in IMO Res.
A.381(X). Established in
1979 by IMO Res. A.419(XI).
The purpose of NAVAREAs is to facilitate the promulgation and reception of area-specific
navigational warnings. NAVAREAs are part of the World-Wide Navigational Warning
System which is operated by the IHO.
NAVAREAs are identical to METAREAs.
Following the adoption of
the 1979 Search and
Rescue (SAR) Convention,
IMO's Maritime Safety
Committee divided the
world's oceans into 13
search and rescue areas.
In each area, countries
have delimited SRR for
which they are individually
or collectively responsible.
Unclear. The 1986 US-Japan
bilateral SAR Agreement is
the earliest signed by the US
and might be the earliest in
SRRs organize responsibilities for the provision of search and rescue capacities in specific
regions. The maritime SAR regime is integrated into the aeronautical SAR regime,
organized by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) through its Chicago
Convention on Civil Aviation. SAR Regions often coincide with Flight Information Regions
to establish a seamless system of emergency communication and response.
Part of the Global
Maritime Distress and
Safety System (GMDSS),
administered by the IMO.
The specific boundaries of
Sea Areas A1 and A2 are
determined by states, see
IMO Res. A.801(19).
IMO adopted the GMDSS in
1988. Sea Areas are first
mentioned in the 1988
GMDSS amendments to the
International Convention for
the Safety of Life at Sea
Sea areas designate zones which have different limitations with respect to radio coverage.
Some areas are in range of coastal radio stations, some require satellite communications.
The GMDSS distinguishes between four Sea Areas (A1-A4).
The LRIT was adopted in
2006 by the IMO in
Resolution MSC.202 (81).
The LRIT is a system for the long-distance tracking of ships. The DDP regulates how the
collected data is distributed among coastal states, allowing (with some exceptions) states
access to data for ships navigating within 1,000 nautical miles of their coast.
The Joint WMO (World
Technical Commission for
Oceanography and Marine
Meteorology. Within each
METAREA one particular
country is tasked with
providing a point of
A comparable system had
been first promulgated in
the 1991 IMO Resolution
METAREAS are first formally
mentioned in the 2008
Amendment to A.705 (IMO
Maritime Safety Committee
which revised the Annex.
METAREAs were created to establish a system for the promulgation and reception of
maritime safety information, especially relating to weather.
METAREAs are identical to NAVAREAs.