Island Lives, Ocean States

Research Objectives and Agenda


Main content


The OceanStates project builds on eight objectives which are to be addressed in multidisciplinary perspective, and explored through multi-scale anthropology-driven fieldwork, concurrent with developing and analysing scenarios of sea level rise and global legal mechanisms:  

  1. To build a repertoire of scenarios of sea level rise and sovereignty through oceanography, remote sensing, and studies of applicable legal systems, and to connect scenarios ethnographically to realities at hand;
  2. To investigate and document the diversity of Pacific knowledge concerning the ocean over the entire range from inshore waters to the high seas, and with reference to gender, age, and geographical locality;
  3. To explore and evaluate, from an ethnographic perspective and dialogues in island locations and political and diplomatic meetings, which circumstances that may cause a Pacific person, a Pacific national population, and a Pacific state to deem their land unviable from sea level rise;
  4. To understand how Pacific persons, groups, states and leaders on the basis of their own time-honoured models of human-environmental viability interpret, judge, and plan for time-scales and implications of rendering their territories open for potential losses of terrestrial and maritime sovereignty including EEZs;
  5. To establish how, in the situations at hand, a separation of sovereign land and sea territories from its population can be envisaged, with a particular focus on EEZs;
  6. To investigate how political, diplomatic and legal negotiations concerning sea level rise, sovereignties, ocean resources and EEZs in the Pacific develop on regional and global scenes;
  7. To understand the approaches taken by foreign capitalist enterprises to plan for the possible transformation of EEZs into a condition of mare nullius where access to fish and deep-sea minerals is unhindered by Pacific national sovereignties;
  8. To analyse the global implications of Pacific Islands responses to the threat to national sovereignties by sea level rise.


Five fields of inquiry form an interrelated whole, where cutting-edge research and close policy engagements are intertwined:

  1. People of the Sea, People at Sea: Climate change, migration and transformations of sovereignty
  2. Monitoring sea levels and modelling EEZs
  3. Counteracting mare nullius: Pacific efforts to record, revise and secure EEZs
  4. Treaties and the global compression of climate change politics
  5. Our Sea of Islands: Pacific cultural heritage and global climate change


From oceanography to poetry: With a foundation in Pacific-grounded anthropology, OceanStates draws social sciences, humanities, law and natural sciences together in deep encounters with Pacific knowledges. New dialogues are created wherever the Pacific Ocean is at stake: from the beaches of Oceania to the United Nations Headquarters.