Which country ‘owns’ the most ocean?

Managing our natural resources is especially difficult in the oceans where species not only move huge distances, but it’s also not entirely clear who is responsible for which piece of the ocean. Nonetheless, some countries have rights over huge areas of ocean and we should learn from their experiences.

If you think about who has responsibility for which parts of the Earth, you probably think of a world map with blocks of land parcelled up and run by various countries. However, in addition to that each country can claim up to 200 miles of ocean directly off of its coast – these are called Exclusive Economic Zones or EEZs. And then there is the open ocean, also known as the high seas, that no country has exclusive rights to. The high seas make up 60% of the earth’s surface: talk about a headache for management.

So what countries have big EEZs – in other words, which ones have the responsibility for the largest areas of our oceans? Before today I would have guessed that an island nation with a huge coastline, such as Indonesia, might have the largest EEZ. I found out that it’s in fact the US that has the largest EEZ! Larger than it’s land surface! Check out this map:

Image from National Geographic DailyNews article (link on this blog)

I recommend also reading the article where I found this: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2011/03/30/overfishing-101-a-beginners-guide-to-understanding-u-s-fishery-management/

What’s interesting is that I’d recently heard that the US claims to manage almost all of its fisheries (quite a statement considering most fisheries worldwide are basically a free for all). This article, written by an American, actually makes it sound like they have a lot more work to do. The author, from Pew Environment Group, will continue to explain US fisheries issues in subsequent articles.

Let’s see what we can learn about managing marine resources from the country with the largest territorial ocean claim!

Note: there are many more nuances to high seas issues, EEZ claims and marine natural resource issues – but those will be for another day.