What Happens To A Country’s Waters After It Sinks?

October 27, 2014 in Daily Bulletin

Due to rising sea levels, several countries are threatened with extinction. Latif Nasser wrote about what this means for what is often the country’s most valuable resource: their water rights.

  • The UN law of the sea defines a country’s waters as those within 200 nautical miles of its shore.
  • These waters can be lucrative. The fishing rights alone can be worth several billion a year.
  • There is a catch though. A country can’t claim the waters around a rocky outcropping that might formally be a part of its territory.
  • Instead it must properly be defined as an island, which, among other things, requires that it be able to sustain human habitation on its own.
  • The problem is that as sea levels rise, several countries may no longer meet the definition of an island, and lose the lucrative rights to their waters.
  • As countries will likely erect artificial ocean barriers, one possible solution is to redefine islands to include those which allow for human habitation through manmade structures.
  • Another is to freeze maritime boundaries as they currently exist so that they don’t constantly have to be remapped and the economic viability of small sinking states isn’t threatened.
  • The United Nations could also recognize a new type of country: the deterritorialized state. These states could continue to call themselves a country, and hold onto their maritime rights, even if they no longer have any land to call their own.
  • The problem with all of these solutions is that they would require changes in international laws. And since the countries that most need it have little geopolitical clout it is unlikely that they could effect change in time.
  • Instead countries will likely have to sell their maritime rights, in exchange for land from other countries to establish a new state.

Read about Kiribati, a country that is currently living this dilemma, how it has tried to resolve it, how groups such as the Knights of Malta might lead the way, and much more in what is a well written and exhaustive article on the subject over here.

Source: The Boston Globe