This coming week I have meetings arranged with NOCS researchers
whose role it is to advise on the making and refusal of claims to
undersea territories. I remember going to Poland in the
1980’s and being forcibly struck by the idea of living in a country
whose boundaries had changed so many times over the centuries.
Rationally I understood this fully of course but coming from an
island nation something about the concept effected me powerfully.
While we mourn the loss of parts of our coastline to erosion and the threat of rising sea levels hangs like a spectre over the future, negotiations are taking place around the ownership of the seabed, which will fundamentally change our existing perceptions of national boundaries. While the landmass shrinks, the expansion and extension of human territory continues, un-hindered.
The planting of a flag on the Artic seabed by Russia in 2007 (footage of which was then revealed to incorporate material from the film Titanic) vividly brought the issue to popular attention. In 2008 Britain made claims to parts of the Southern Atlantic around the Ascension Islands adding to those already in place for areas of the seabed around the Falklands reigniting and casting a new perspective on old conflicts.
As I understand it over and above claims to their immediate territorial waters countries may assert their right to parts of the seabed on the basis of ‘land mass extension’ - or by demonstrating a geological connection, which establishes the seabed as part of their terrestrial continental shelf .The capacity to establish cultural or historical links provides another basis for such claims.
‘Experts say that fewer than half of the world's maritime boundaries have been agreed and there is significant potential for conflict where more than one country submits claims to overlapping areas.’
I find this juxtaposition of physical and cultural factors fascinating, the one rooted in seemingly irrefutable materialities, the other reliant on interpretation and influence.
A Wikipedia entry on territorial waters refers me to the Principality of Sealand, a micro nation located on HM Fort Roughs a former World War II sea defence in the North Sea, whose claims to the seabed on which it is built remain so far unrecognized.