For four weeks Tom McClean inhabit a large granite rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. In the South China Sea, no less than eight countries quarrel over maritime land and in Japan, scientists use mysterious corals to keep a reef above sea level and turn it into an island. The states' creativity has no limits. It is a game which to win means nothing less than owning the ocean - and by that securing future supplies of food and resources.
It is similar to the 19th century's history of Africa, when colonial powers divided up the continent among themselves. But while back then land grabbing was done through economic and military pressure, states today use something else: they rely on science. “Continental shelf” is the magic formula that opens up new underwater territories. It is the formula that found its way into the Law of the Sea, more or less unnoticed even by its contractors. Today coastal states are bent on proving its ownership to continental shelfs as large as they can be. Because the bigger the continental shelf, the bigger the ocean territory is.
The impacts of this global run are hard to predict. Conflicts between states because of overlapping claims are an everyday occurrence, in the South China Sea, in the Carribean, in the Arctic, off the West African coast, in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. Environmental impacts will show as states already start cashing in on their new deep-sea territories and exploit its resources.