The use of the world’s oceans raises questions which are central to the human experience. The oceans blanket some 71 percent of the earth’s surface, provide the human race with food and recreational opportunities, serve as a highway for world commerce, and cover immense sources of usable energy and other nonliving resources. They have also been used inadvertently and purposefully as a sink in which to deposit the waste products of civilization.
Because of the pressure of growing population, particularly in coastal areas, and contemporary technology and associated effects, the human race is increasingly in a position to affect the workings of the oceans’ natural systems, to deplete its renewable resources, and to detract from the natural beauty of the sea. Yet we also know more about the physical environment than did earlier generations and we continue to expand our understanding of the world around us. How do we apply all that we have learned over the years of the characteristics and natural processes of the oceans and the oceans’ interplay with the earth’s land masses?
In our treatment of ocean space we are displaying our approach to the wider question of human interaction with the physical environment. Myriad questions of values arise and we are forced to contemplate ever-widening systems of human cooperation to protect our common welfare. The need for legal and institutional mechanisms to manage and to regulate human behavior in relation to the world’s oceans is ever more apparent.
The management of the uses of ocean space is a central focus of the field of marine affairs. Such management seeks, in accordance with some system of politically determined values, which is either explicit or implicit, to increase the benefits that may be derived from the resource and non-resource uses of the ocean. At the same time, it attempts to minimize detrimental effects on the ocean environment and to ameliorate conflict of use situations. In general it tries to provide for a directed balance among the various uses of ocean space as well as to protect the ocean environment from damage to its long-term viability.
But why and how did the need for such management develop? After all, for the most part, from the seventeenth century until very recently, the