Archive for the 'Disputed islands' Category

Island Collector Seeks to Bag Rockall

Thursday, May 13th, 2010


A Scot known as Islandman has gained permission to visit, and sleep on, Rockall.

Rockall is the most isolated outpost of the British Isles, and is well northwest of Ireland. It strains the definition of island, as it is only 80 by 100 feet, and has almost no vegetation or even flat surfaces. No visits to the crag are recorded before 1810, and only four people are known to have slept there.

Islandman, also called Andy Strangeway, is an extreme island collector, and has slept on all Scottish islands of more than 40 hectares, and some 168 Scottish islands in all. On 94 of them, he was the only person sleeping on the island.

The Rights of Ghost Islands

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Ocean by Rappensuncle (Flickr)Professor James Lee asked an interesting question earlier this year: will islands that cease to exist due to rising sea levels still have sovereignty based on their former existence?

He wrote:

Some remote islands — particularly such Pacific islands as Tuvalu, Kiribati, Tonga, the Maldives and many others — may be partially or entirely submerged beneath rising ocean waters. Do they lose their sovereignty if their territory disappears? After all, governments in exile have maintained sovereign rights in the past over land they didn’t control (think of France and Poland in World War II). Nor are these new questions far away in the future. The first democratically elected president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, is already planning to use tourism revenue to buy land abroad — perhaps in India, Sri Lanka or Australia — to house his citizens.

Absolute sovereignty, territorial waters, and marine exclusive economic zones are all ultimately based on land in current international law. Will a strip of the northern Indian Ocean remain Maldivian even if the islands begin to vanish? Will the Maldivians and others fund their displaced lives with the mineral rights to the waters that swallow their homes?

(Note that Tonga is not in danger of fully disappearing, as it has several substantial, raised islands. Here are a few more islands that might be.)

The resources in play are expanding: as The Economist wrote about in May, the maritime claims are being extended to continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from land. Huge areas of ocean are being claimed, with rights to oil, metal, and seabed methane hydrates, often based on the locations of islands. While some issues are being worked out amicably, the move could intensify various island disputes, such as those around the multiple claims to the South China Sea.

(Image courtesy Rappensuncle — Creative Commons use via Flickr)

A disputed island in the Black Sea

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

Ukraine and Romania appear to be saying that they will let an international court rule on Zmeiny (“serpent”), a disputed island in the northwestern Black Sea.

Administered by Ukraine, it is pretty much the sole island of significance in the Black Sea, and also it’s most isolated.

[border disputes, Ukrainian  geography]

Japan hopes to grow island

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

To firm up the definition of Okinotorishima as an island — and thereby insure rights to a large economic zone in the Pacific — Japan is planning to seed corals on the reef in hopes that the island might grow. The island is now almost wholly covered at high tide.

Overall, the Japanese case is weak, though the government argues otherwise. According the the UPI article,

Last year Shintaro Ishihara, the nationalist Governor of [Tokyo], was photographed kissing its dwindling earth. The problem is Article 121 of Part VIII of the UN Convention: “Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.” Even Mr Ishihara would balk at living on Okino-Torishima, although there is talk of setting up an electricity plant to establish “economic life”.

(Perhaps the Japanese have heard this Malay saying: “Where good seed falls into the sea, one day an island may appear.”)

Translations lost at sea

Saturday, April 22nd, 2006

The Tokdo (Dokdo) / Takeshima dispute between Japan and Korea is heating up again, and could lead to a particularly stupid war.

On a blog, an angry poster listing Japan’s historical offenses against Korea leveled this curious accusation: “The Japs has made the land to be officially named ‘Half Island’ instead of ‘Peninsula’. Kingdom of Forgery!”

“Hanto” is Japanese for “peninsula,” and means “half-island” in English. That is of course the same meaning as “peninsula,” which is Latin for “almost island.”

The oddest part of this complaint is that in Korean the Koreas occupy a “bando.” What does this mean? An American university notes that “the Korean term for peninsula (bando) means literally ‘half-island.'”

(“Half-” or “semi-island” is the term for peninsula in many languages. Perceiving a protuberance of land this way does not seem self-evident, and I wonder what peninsulas are called by peoples for whom islands were the center of things, not isolated fragments, for instance in the Pacific?)

Dok-to / Takeshima

Sunday, February 19th, 2006

Two Korean senior citizens will resume their existence as the sole civilians on the disputed group of islets in the Sea of Japan after a 10 year absence. A poet is supposed to join them in the spring.

The practice of sending someone to live on disputed small islands is partially an assertion of their island status: an attempt to prove that they are places rather than things, islands not rocks.

Island or rock? Sometimes it matters

Sunday, February 5th, 2006

When it comes to Okinotorishima, “Tokyo claims the parts above sea are islands, Beijing prefers to think of them as mere rocks.” Whose definition prevails could determine whether Japan has exclusive rights over thousands of square miles of the Pacific Ocean.