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Reading Group Summary: July 4th, 2022

Dégremont, M. (2022). LSMPA Sovereignties in New Caledonia and French Polynesia: Territorialities, Alliances and Powers in Oceania. Oceania, 92(1), 51-73.

Lucas Watt

Dégremont’s article is the first the reading group has discussed in our four week focus on Ocean Sovereignty and Territoriality in the Pacific. Dégremont’s article discusses the emergence of the new ocean territorial category known as Large Scale Marine Protected Areas (LSMPAs) which are formally defined within the Big Ocean Network as Marine Protected Areas (MPA) larger than 150,000km2. The article discusses the formation of the Coral Sea Nature Park LSMPA (located around New Caledonia) and the Te Tai Nui Atea LSMPA (located around French Polynesia). Dégremont argues that plural forms of ocean sovereignty are emerging from the formation and contestation of these LSMPAs. These ocean soveriegnties go beyond the singular conception of a territorial and bounded area of space defined and controlled by the state. Rather the articulation of power and territory by the emergence of various non-state ocean actors in the formation and contestation of LSMPAs are resulting in new overlapping assertions of influence over ocean space.

The entities involved in the articulation of power and territory includes the French state who still retains formal colonial ownership over New Caledonia and French Polynesia. However, these entities also include the semi-autonomous governments of New Caledonia and French Polynesia, NGOs such as the Pew Institute, and local communities within the territorial bounds of these designated LSMPAs. The presence of both the French government and semi-autonomous New Caledonian and French Polynesian governments over ocean affairs introduces diverging opportunities for plural ocean sovereignty. Non-state ocean actors who engage with the overlapping and competing authorities of the French and local national governments can pursue new forms of ocean sovereignty.

Dégremont synthesizes the ocean sovereignty tensions that result in the model below.

  1. A vertical sovereignty linked to the colonial relationship between France and its overseas territories and a horizontal sovereignty between Pacific countries and the socio-political groups that compose them.
  2. A bounded territory and reticular sovereignty underpinning political, social and ecological connectivities
  3. The centralization and decentralization of powers from France to the overseas territories and within the territories.

Plural ocean sovereignty emerge in different forms in the tensions above. For instance in these interactions overlapping classifications of ocean space have emerged including the Large Scale Marine Protected Areas (LSMPAs), as well as Large Scale Marine Managed Areas (LSMMAs). The alternative LSMMA classification was seemingly proposed by the French Polynesian government in opposition to LSMPA. The difference seems like a mere issue of semantics, however, these different emerging acronyms have real implications. Different alliances between ocean actors around each of these different acronyms coalesce. These different alliances get funding, political support, and authority from different sources . As a result, governments (whether they be Pacific or French), and non state ocean actors, can assert power and influence over ocean space in different ways by being a part of these emerging alliances attached to these simultaneously existing ocean classifications. This can functionally affect how the ocean is governed in relation to conservation, security, economic use, and so on. How ocean actors engage with each other and assert their influence in these alliances results is what Dégremont calls “functional sovereignty”.

These alliances however are as dynamic and fluid as the ocean they assert influence over. Sovereignty over ocean therefore subject to change, partiality, and potential disintegration. What is clear in this equation however is the dissolution of the idea over singular state based sovereignty over ocean space. In its place there are plural ocean soveriegnties created by different alliances between state and non-state ocean actors coalesced around these different ocean classifications.

Marine Protected Areas (MPA) – Image Credit: Big Ocean Network

TransOcean is a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant project 

The project is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 802223

Author

  • I am a Post-Doctoral researcher on the ERC-funded TransOcean Project at the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), Norway. My portion of the project sets out to analyze maritime mobilities, exchange, and conservation, in the increasingly securitised region of Oceania. I graduated with a PhD from the School of Media and Communications at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University. My ethnographic fieldwork in Suva Fiji analyses how rural-urban migrants living in “informal settlements” articulate tradition in urban spaces.

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