The Area

Speaking with Dr Lindsay Parsons I stumble across one of those terms that keeps on resonating with you  - or at least in an imagination as given to associations as my own - 'The Area'.

I was speaking with Dr Parsons about the processes whereby countries may submit claims to areas of seabed under the United Nations Convention on the law of the Sea.

‘Article 76 of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea provides a mechanism for nations to claim rights to their continental shelf and slope beyond their current EEZ limits. To support claims, nations must present, among other things, bathymetric data establishing the location of the 2,500-meter (about 8,200 feet) depth contour and the foot of the continental slope’.

In gathering information about this process I had already realised that there would inevitably be areas of seabed, which would fall outside of anybody’s direct jurisdiction, but I wasn’t prepared for the fact that the collective term for this is ‘the area’.

Something about this term - reminiscent of an episode of the Prisoner, suggestive of a ‘free’ zone outside of normal limits; as evocative as the Sargasso Sea or Bermuda Triangle - continues to captivate me.

Interestingly, parts of ‘The Area’ can be enclosed by other territorial bodies of water and regions of seabed, as in the Arctic, on maps they appear as a kind of hole in the fabric of things. Immediately my mind is set running as to how such things can be differentiated at sea, the answer is of course through co-ordinates, but never the less the lack of visible, on or under the surface, differentiation, suggests that were one to find oneself wandering across such spaces, no indicators would be evident.

I wonder if at some point in the future rather than using bodies of waters as a means to travel from one territory to another they will in effect become synonymous with them. Giving rise to attempted border crossings of the kind that currently take place between Mexico and the US, necessitating the creation of some kind of seaborne physical border.


In 2,000 leagues under the sea Captain Nemo is a figure who has claimed the sea as his home, protector and domain, taking refuge in its vast, unbounded drifts from the conflicts and tyranny of mankind. Satellite systems such as the Seahorse network, used to police the seas off of the Canary Islands, give the lie however to any contemporay romantic notions of the freedom of the seas  

Talking to Tim he tells me that when he is on a research cruise (yes cruise is the appropriate term) there maybe long periods of time where no passing ships or land are visible, a circumstance which conjures a sense of emptiness and seclusion. Lindsay assures me however that the possibility of one country invading unobserved the undersea territory of another is unfeasible although the possibility of un-attributable pollution spreading from one zone to another is much more of a concern.

Rather than as a free zone ‘The Area’ is conceived of as being maintained and managed for the common good: 

1. No State shall claim or exercise sovereignty or sovereign rights over any part have the Area or its resources, nor shall any State or natural or juridical person appropriate any part thereof.  No such claim or exercise of sovereignty or sovereign rights nor such appropriation shall be recognized

2. All rights in the resources of the Area are vested in mankind as a whole, on whose behalf the Authority shall act.

The resources of which are never the less available for exploration and exploration under licence, the levy going to support developing nations.

‘The effective participation of developing States in activities in the Area shall be promoted as specifically provided for in this Part, having due regard to their special interests and needs, and in particular to the special need of the land-locked and geographically disadvantaged among them to overcome obstacles arising from their disadvantaged location, including remoteness from the Area and difficulty of access to and from it

outline of areas of sea bed subject to current  claims
outline of areas of sea bed subject to current claims