ABSTRACT The Law of the Sea may be defined as the specialized set of decisions dealing with the nature and extent of control exercised over the marine environment. Of particular concern to geographers are three aspects: the distribution of controls which are exercised in the marine environment, the bases for establishing certain controls, and the impact the controls have on the utilization of the sea's resources.
The marine environment differs from that on land because of its three-dimensional nature, the mobility of many of its resources, and the fact that various forms of activity can be carried on simultaneously in one small sector of the sea. The resources of the high seas are the common property of all countries, although coastal states exercise jurisdiction over narrow bands of water adjacent to their shorelines.
Over the years a complex body of international law has grown up concerning jurisdiction over the world ocean; much of this law is embodied in the four Geneva Conventions adopted in 1958. But with changing technologies and changing political and economic conditions, the Conventions have proven to be of limited value in resolving international conflicts over access to the sea's resources. Individual countries continue to press unilateral claims for which there are no bases in law or custom, yet against which there is little attractive counter force. At a time when the potential wealth of the marine environment is slowly being unlocked, it is essential to develop a composite view of the world ocean and its administration, to relate the controls exercised in the sea to the milieu in which they are operative, to compare maritime controls in one area with those in effect in other areas, and to move from national and multinational interests in marine resource management toward the identification of world interests in the rational control and management of the marine environment.