From mountain to sea: The erosion and extraction of sovereign sands

Dr Katherine Sammler1

1California State University Maritime, Vallejo, United States


The black sands off Aotearoa New Zealand’s Taranaki Bight are made of titanomagnetite, containing high concentrations of iron. Their dark color and magnetic properties signify the coveted ore within, targeted for controversial seabed mining. These sands originate from the volcanic Mt. Taranaki, eroded by streams and rivers into the ocean, representing a direct material exchange from mountains to sea. Mt. Taranaki is the third geographic feature in the country to receive legal personality, meaning local Māori tribes will share guardianship of the sacred mountain with the government, as opposed to exerting human sovereignty over it. Within the context of longstanding disputes over Māori rights to the foreshore, the fractal property of coasts draw attention to the material politics of dividing land and sea, and therefore offshore resource rights. This sand exhibits geontological tensions between the entangled natures of life/non-life, subject/object, interior/exterior, and the mobility and spatiality of a granular body.


Dr. Katherine Sammler is trained as a geographer, with a background in atmospheric science and physics. She is currently an assistant professor at California State University Maritime in the Department of Global Studies & Maritime Affairs. She conducts research at the intersection of science and politics in the realm of oceans, atmospheres, and outer space. In all areas, her work considers the role of knowledge, law, and power in defining global commons, access, and environmental justice.

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