Does it matter if there is a Southern Ocean?

Ms Zsofia Korosy1

1University of New South Wales, UNSW Sydney, Australia

Does the Southern Ocean exist, and does the question matter? According to the 1953 3rd edition of the International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO)’s report, ‘Limits of Oceans and Seas’, there is no Southern Ocean: Antarctica is the southern border of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The 2002 draft 4th edition of the report proposes a Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica and extending north to the 60°S parallel, but for reasons unconnected to the Southern Ocean this draft has not been adopted. Previous drafts of the IHO’s reports have also recognised a Southern Ocean.


The IHO’s publication catalogue notes that these reports are used for ‘uniformity when compiling various nautical documents’. It declares explicitly that ‘the limits contained in this publication have no political significance’. And yet, clearly they matter to nations: 60 years after the 1953 document, and despite considerable efforts since 1977, it has proven impossible to finalise a new edition of the report.


This presentation explores whether, and why, it might matter whether the Southern Ocean exists. It considers the political and geographical significance of drawing lines in oceans, and the effects that these kinds of line-drawing have on the elaboration of legal regimes of ocean conservation.


Zsofia’s teaching has included International Environmental Law and Federal Constitutional Law. She is Joint Editor of AUSPUBLAW – the Australian Public Law blog.

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