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6.3 Conflicts over the marine environment

That the islands' marine space constitutes such a large area of the Pacific confers a special responsibility to conserve the resources therein and to protect the ocean ecosystem-another task which requires foresight and careful planning. It is in the vast areas now under the legal jurisdiction of island states that radioactivity has been introduced from American and French nuclear testing in the waters around Micronesia and Tahiti and beyond. There is already evidence of food-chain contamination (Van Dyke, 1985) in this area; there have also been now well-known attempts. to deliberately dump both high- and low-level nuclear wastes.

All Pacific island governments have expressed strong opposition to proposals for both dumping of nuclear wastes and testing of nuclear devices in the region. However, there are dangers that this resistance may falter in the face of enticing aid overtures and other actions designed to soften this stance. The disposition of Pacific island states regarding all forms of marine pollution will be a vital factor in preserving the marine environment and in remedying the damage that has already been done. For this reason, the successful outcome of treaty negotiations for the South Pacific Regional Environmental Program (SPREP) is significant. The Convention and the two protocols were completed at the Conference and opened for signature on 25 November 1986 at Noumea, New Caledonia (South Pacific Commission, 1987). The Convention will enter into force 30 days after the deposit of at least 10 instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval, or accession (5 for the protocols). As of July 1988, this had not yet occurred (Anonymous, 1988). This regional environmental protection treaty is an important step for the islands' environment in general and the marine environment in particular, which is one of the Pacific island nations' principal assets.

The Convention requires parties to take all appropriate steps to prevent, reduce, and control pollution emanating from vessel discharges, land-based sources, seabed activities, discharges into the atmosphere, disposal of wastes, storage of toxic and hazardous wastes, and nuclear testing. Parties are also called upon to prevent environmental damage, specifically coastal erosion, caused by coastal engineering, mining activities, sand removal, and dredging. The first protocol-Protocol Concerning Cooperation in Combatting Pollution Emergencies in the South Pacific Region - mandates the adoption of national contingency plans to be co-ordinated with appropriate bilateral and sub-regional contingency plans. The second protocolProtocol for the Prevention of Pollution of the South Pacific by Dumping - creates a regional agreement consistent with the London Dumping Convention and establishes lists of substances, the dumping of which is prohibited, and lists of substances requiring special or general permits. The 'Convention Area' is defined as comprising the 200-nmi zones of twenty-three self-governing island nations (including Australia's East Coast and eastward islands) and island territories and enclaves of high seas enclosed by these 200-nmi zones (Figure 6. 1).

There were two controversial issues during the negotiations: (1) inclusion of nuclear weapons testing and (2) inclusion of areas of high seas within the Convention area. A carefully worded provision made it possible for France to become a party to the Convention and yet made it clear that the environmental effects of nuclear testing were of considerable concern to the island nations of the region. The United States was against the inclusion of extensive areas beyond the 200-nmi zones of the participating island nations and territories. However, it eventually agreed to the inclusion of enclaves but not fingers or corridors of high seas.

6.4 Conficting maritime claims

In an area as large as the Pacific, with so many islands dotted across its surface and each extending its maritime jurisdiction by 200 nmi, conflicting maritime claims have inevitably arisen. There is no overt conflict at this time. The disputed claims and the principles on which they are based are well known; yet no substantive attempts have been made to resolve the contested issues.

The island states involved in the boundary demareation problems are American Samoa, Western Samoa, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga, and New Zealand. Details of the various claims and the legal and other principles on which they are based have been meticulously examined and documented (Broder and Van Dyke, 1982). Tonga's territorial claims were first promulgated in 1887, when 'all the islands, rocks, reefs, foreshores, and waters lying between 150 and 23030' South latitude, and between 1770 and 1730 West longitude' (Broder and Van Dyke, 1982: 9) were designated Tongan territory. These have come to be known as Tonga's historic claims. They were reaffirmed in 1968 when oil exploration began in this general area. Fiji and Tonga would have a substantial overlap of their respective 200-nmi EEZs if Tonga were to declare the limits of its historical claim as the base from which its EEZ is to be measured.

Recently Tonga has laid claim to the Minerva Reefs (or Teleki Tonga and Teleki Tokelau), two volcanic formations a few miles apart situated some 180 miles south-west of the nearest Tongan island. A 200-nmi Tongan EEZ around the Minerva Reefs would overlap with New Zealand's EEZ around the Kermadec Islands (a New Zealand dependency). In this case, the pivotal issue would be whether New Zealand would accept Teleki Tonga and Teleki Tokelau as base points.

In 1977 Fiji enacted a Marine Spaces Act (No. 18 of 1977), thus declaring itself to be an arehipelagic state. Moreover, in 1965 Fiji had laid claim to a sand cay of 61/2 acres called Ceva-i-Ra, which is located 300 miles south-west of Kadavu, the nearest island within the Fijian arehipelago. Because Ceva-i-Ra is naturally above water at high tide, it appears that it would be entitled to a territorial sea, contiguous zone, and EEZ. A Fijian EEZ for Ceva-i-Ra would overlap with the EEZ of either New Caledonia or Vanuatu, depending on which succeeds in establishing sovereignty over Matthew and Hunter islands (Broder and Van Dyke, 1982: 39-40). Both Matthew and Hunter islands would generate EEZs of 53,800 sq. nmi (Broder and Van Dyke, 1982: 40). Western Samoa passed the Economic Zone Act of 1977, which set an EEZ of 200 nmi from the baselines described in its Territorial Seas Act of 1971 (Broder and Van Dyke, 1982: 52). Western Samoa's claimed 200-nmi EEZ overlaps with that of Tonga and of American Samoa. Although they are not currently issues for the states concerned, such questions will have to be faced squarely at some point in the future and may provide a focal point for mischief-making by external powers coveting the natural wealth that may be in the disputed area.

In the context of extended maritime jurisdiction, there is a domestic issue that should not be neglected. Traditional land-owning units (clans) in the Pacific often own islands or clusters of islands. In some parts of Fiji, for example, these land-owning units are already demanding fishing fees from local non-indigenous fishermen. Might demands for other kinds of payment, such as for a percentage of the government revenue derived from taxing foreign fishermen, be made in the future by such owners or their representatives? Since these smaller islands or groups of islands are generally the rural, less developed sectors of these underdeveloped island states, might native customary owners demand a percentage of revenues from seabed mining when and if such activity were to begin, particularly if the mining sites were located in areas close to these islands? Speculative as this is (and even conceding its unlikelihood), it is a variation on the conflicting maritime claims theme to which seant attention has been paid. It opens up a domestic political dimension in extended jurisdiction sensitivities, particularly if there should be large amounts of revenue forthcoming from its oil or mineral development.

So far, conflicting maritime claims in the Pacific have two principal characteristics: they are latent, and they deal with what might be called 'demareation issues', such as establishment of baselines and ownership of islands. It remains to be seen how these issues will be resolved and even when they are settled, other conflicts will no doubt arise, particularly in the wake of seabed mineral exploitation. Reliance on some glamorous slogan like 'tine Pacific way' as a means of solving problems may be illusory when the interests of outside powers are threatened and large amounts of money are at stake. In a generation or two, what now appears to be a comfortable consensus may turn out to be paper-thin and brittle indeed.

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