Turning to the London Convention of '72, which used to be known as the London Dumping Convention. It was such an awful-sounding title for an international convention that we removed the "Dumping" and added '72 for the year that it came into being.

imageThe Convention has been updated in 1996, so the London Convention now has a 1996 Protocol. Can the injection of iron into the ocean be classified as dumping? Well, it probably would be considered as such, because dumping, as defined by the Convention, is, "any deliberate disposal into the sea of waste or other matter from vessels." Waste or other matter isn't just contaminants, it means material and substance of any kind, form, or description. (Slide 6)Therefore the injection of iron into the ocean probably would be classed as dumping. There are exceptions. Dumping does not include the disposal into the sea of waste or other matter incidental to or derived from the normal operation of vessels which is not relevant in this case.

The London Convention does include in the exclusions "all the placement of matter for a purpose other than the mere disposal thereof, provided such placement is not contrary to the aims of the Convention." There have been discussions over such things as putting rubber tires in for artificial reefs. If you throw them into the sea as waste, then it would be dumping and not permitted. If you were putting them into the sea for a purpose--for an artificial reef, say--that could be considered an exception.

If this sort of placement were proposed by a scientific committee or even within a national government, a permit could be issued. The question of whether such placement was contrary to the aims of the Convention would probably hinge on whether this injection of nutrients would be pollution. Pollution is defined in the Convention as the introduction--direct or indirect--of waste or other matter that is likely to result in harm to living resources and marine ecosystems.

It is known that the injection of iron changes the marine ecology, at least in the local area, which could be interpreted as harm to living resources and marine ecosystems. The general obligations of contracted parties would have to be considered. A precautionary approach has been adopted by the Contracting Parties to the London Convention.


The precautionary approach with respect to dumping is one whereby appropriate preventative measures are taken when there is reason to believe that waste or other matter, introduced to a marine environment, is likely to cause harm. This applies even when there's no conclusive evidence to prove a causal relation, and so it places a fairly onerous obligation on Contracting Parties to be conservative.

An additional consideration is that the polluter should, in principle, pay the cost of pollution. This means that if an entity or government undertakes an activity that turns out to be harmful, then that country, government, or whoever was responsible, would, in principle, have to bear the cost of damages.

imageContracting Parties also shall not act so as to transfer directly or indirectly damage or likelihood of damage from one part of the environment to another, or transform one type of pollution into another. This is also one of the articles in the Law of the Sea, and I suppose it's a consideration at least, whether deliberately removing CO2 from the atmosphere, if it were regarded as a pollutant, and putting into the ocean, would come under this article or not. I think that may be stretching the intent of the article a bit.

imageThe U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea is the bible of intergovernmental law concerning international waters. Everything relating to iron fertilization will be covered, at least in general terms, under this Convention. It was a terrific undertaking and achievement to get this U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea passed. Most people don't realize that it's already about 20 years old, because it was drafted in the early 1970s.
I personally believe that it needs to be reviewed, and yet there are no articles that cover a regular review. Certainly, there are many changes and advances that hadn't even been considered when these articles were being drafted under the Law of the Sea, and the enrichment of the sea is one of them. No articles cover ocean fertilization, exactly, but UNCLOS is the authority on which most of intergovernmental legal ocean agreements are based, and it does state that the international area of the ocean and its resources are the common heritage of mankind.

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