Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Centre for Maritime Policy - Faculty of Law


In the context of marine environment protection and biodiversity conservation, a number of measures adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) can be viewed as implementing obligations and recommendations of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Chapter 17 of Agenda 21 and the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity respectively. Pre-eminent among these measures is the particularly sensitive sea area (PSSA) concept; a tool that can be applied in an integrated manner, irrespective of maritime jurisdictional boundaries. However, despite the potential benefits that PSSA designation can deliver, recent practice both within the IMO and by individual member States, has considerably undermined confidence in this emerging concept, calling into question its whole basis as an effective management tool. Recent nominations by individual member States, for PSSA designation, have had the effect of dividing the IMO community over the scope and application of the PSSA concept, resulting in demands by several States to re-examine and constrain the concept. Some observers consider that the manner by which the IMO considers and decides upon applications for PSSA designation has aggravated this situation and have called for a review of the IMO approval process in its entirety. That this should occur at a time when many observers and coastal State members are increasingly realising the potential benefits of the PSSA concept is all the more cause for concern. The focus of this thesis is on the events within the IMO that have led to this lack of confidence arising. The central theme of the investigation is that the current situation can largely be attributed to the actions of certain member States, in their interpretation and implementation of the PSSA concept, and to the current mechanisms adopted by the IMO for reviewing and approving individual submissions for PSSA designation. A number of specific issues can also be identified with the PSSA Guidelines themselves. This thesis presents an examination of coastal State practice with the PSSA concept, and seeks to address how confidence in the measure can be restored, while satisfying both coastal and maritime States’ interests. In undertaking this analysis, the research provides evidence of the value of the PSSA concept, but also demonstrates its limitations. In this regard, the thesis presents a ‘reality check’ which seeks to rationalise some of the heightened expectations with the concept that are apparent in the current debate. The research argues that States may seek to designate PSSAs more for their ‘iconic status’ than for any demonstrable environmental benefits that may be realised. Such an approach will contribute to the current lack of confidence in the measure and could conceivably result in a complete and irrevocable loss of confidence in the measure by the shipping community. On the basis of the empirical analysis presented and the comparison with alternative protection strategies, this thesis draws conclusions over the value of the PSSA concept and makes recommendations for the future development of the concept. A number of specific amendments are suggested for the PSSA Guidelines themselves, as well as changes to the institutional arrangements for reviewing and approving PSSA nominations.

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Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.