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Who cares who owns the oceans?

The Age of Exploration quickly lent itself to an age of colonialism. Europe’s nations sailed to ancient and new lands and claimed them as extensions of their own soil. In the process, they warred with other countries for territory and committed genocide against the indigenous peoples already living there. The raw materials found in these new territories offered seemingly limitless wealth for the colonizing nations. But millennia of learning to exploit raw materials had taught Europeans that anything found on land was ultimately finite.

Want a parade held for you? Be the first person to circumnavigate the globe. A posthumous celebration was held in Spain in 1522 to honor Ferdinand Magellan’s feat.

07It took slightly longer for this perception to include the sea as well. Humans circumnavigated the globe only in A.D. 1522, but have lived on land for 195,000 years. Because of the immense size of the world’s oceans and our technological inability to remove the resources found in and below them, the idea was that we humans are incapable of depleting these resources. That idea changed in the mid-20th century.

Oil exploration and production became increasingly sophisticated, and nations moved to secure as much oil, natural gas and minerals from the oceans as they could. Since there were no formal treaties or international laws concerning oceans, there was little resistance any governments could legitimately offer to encroaching nations. The oceans, which had been everyone’s shared property for centuries, were now being carved up without any coherent pattern. Read more

Who owns the oceans?

Who owns the world’s oceans? It’s a legitimate question. We divvy up Earth’s terrain through war, conquest and colonization. We use rivers, mountains and entire continents to establish geographic boundaries on land. The oceans have no apparent surface features — just a flat, vast, briny expanse. They’re also all connected; the world’s five oceans are technically one single ocean that covers 71 percent of the planet.

A few of the oceans’ owners enjoy the beach in Comoros, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean

This makes it difficult to divide, and so ultimately, you own the oceans. You and the rest of the 6.6 billion people swarming over Earth’s face right now. All of us own the oceans, and yet none of us do. It’s a conundrum.

For centuries, beginning with the Age of Exploration when ships were developed that could convey humans across the globe, the governments that represent people like you, the oceans’ owner, agreed that no one owned the oceans. This informal agreement was referred to as the Freedom of the Seas doctrine. This concept is also referred to more swashbucklingly as the Law of the Sea.

The doctrine granted exclusive rights to the three-mile buffer of ocean that abutted a coastal nation’s boundaries. These waters given to coastal countries extend those nation’s terrestrial boundaries into the sea; when any foreign nation enters these waters belligerently or without permission, it’s tantamount to an invasion of sovereign soil. The remaining majority of the sea was to be shared by all nations — including landlocked ones — for trade and commerce. Since the oceans are international waters, one nation attacking another’s ship on the open sea could be construed as an act of war. Read more

Reservoir deep under Ontario holds billion-year-old water

Water filtering out of the floor of a deep Ontario mine has been trapped underground for more than a billion years. It bubbles with gasses carrying nutrients that could sustain microbial life.

Water filtering out of the floor of a deep Ontario mine has been trapped underground for more than a billion years. It bubbles with gasses carrying nutrients that could sustain microbial life.

Scientists working 2.4 kilometres below Earth’s surface in a Canadian mine have tapped a source of water that has remained isolated for at least a billion years. The researchers say they do not yet know whether anything has been living in it all this time, but the water contains high levels of methane and hydrogen — the right stuff to support life.

Micrometre-scale pockets in minerals billions of years old can hold water that was trapped during the minerals’ formation. But no source of free-flowing water passing through interconnected cracks or pores in Earth’s crust has previously been shown to have stayed isolated for more than tens of millions of years. Read more

How do seagulls drink saltwater?

For anyone currently whiling away their time at a beach (with a laptop and Internet connection, I guess), this question might occur to you. How do gulls, those birds so adept at stealing your sandwich or even invading your hotel room through an open balcony, drink saltwater?

Gulls, and many other charadriiform birds, have supraorbital glands (also called nasal or salt glands) that help regulate the ionic balance of their blood, according to Britannica Online. While some salt is processed by the kidneys, the excess runs through the glands, which are positioned in grooves of the skull, and trickles out through the nostrils. Other animals also have salt glands, including sea turtles, crocodiles (crocodile tears) and sharks.

Interestingly however, saltwater isn’t the gulls’ drink of choice. If they have the opportunity, or if they’re trying to conserve energy, they’ll stick to easier-to-process freshwater. It got me thinking about our own versions of salt glands — no, certainly not our kidneys, they’re lightweights when it comes to salt. I’m thinking of desalination plants, energy-intensive operations that turn saltwater into fresh. Read more

Water Garden Ideas

Water gardens are not a modern garden idea. Using water in gardens is part of an ancient tradition originating in India and the Middle East, where fountains and pools provided a soothing antidote to the stifling midday heat.

Gardeners for the great houses of the aristocracy in England and France later adapted these ideas for use in more northerly climes, realizing that the presence of water can be a beautiful and restful addition to a garden in any climate. Read more