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Panel 10: The Pacific Ocean as a new frontier?


Elodie Fache, Pierre-Yves Le Meur, Estienne Rodary

Session presentation

Throughout the 20th century, the concept of “frontier” was used to highlight various aspects of colonial processes and encounters in different parts of the world. It has also been mobilised to describe social and political dynamics in Africa in both precolonial and contemporary contexts (Kopytoff 1987, Chauveau et al. 2004). Our panel aims to examine whether this concept can be heuristically used to analyze the new rush for resources that is taking place in the Pacific Ocean and its effects on the governance of this political space. The expansion of industrial fishing activities, oil and mineral offshore explorations, and large-scale marine protected areas in this ocean occur in a shifting environmental and political context. Here the legacy of late colonialism, the interplay of multi-level powers, indigenous claims, juridification processes, and the conflictual dialectic between extraction and conservation collude to shape the “last conservation frontier on Earth” (Gjerde et al. 2016) simultaneously experienced as an “Ocean in us” (Hau‘ofa 1998). Through its focus on “frontier”, the panel invites participants to propose original, long-term and cross-disciplinary approaches of these current reconfigurations of/in the Pacific Ocean.

Paper submissions are closed

Accepted papers

Political frontier and liquid oceanscapes: Elements for discussion

Pierre-Yves Le Meur (IRD - Institut de Recherche pour le Développement)

Caught between liquid modernity and fluid oceanscapes, the idea of 'frontier' could seem irrelevant and the idea of 'maritime frontier' could sound like an oxymoron. Nevertheless, throughout the 20th century, the concept of 'frontier' was used to highlight various aspects of colonial processes and encounters in different parts of the world. It has also been mobilised to describe social and political dynamics in Africa in both precolonial and contemporary contexts (Kopytoff 1987, Chauveau et al. 2004). The latter use of the term emphasizes the institutional construction happening on political frontiers, be they terrestrial or maritime, made of exclusion and dispossession as well as mobilizing various normative and cognitive repertoires. This introductory paper will deal with these issues and discuss the connections between political frontier, appropriation and the commons in the Pacific context of rush for marine resources and territories.

Benefits and Challenges of the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA) and Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) for the French Territories

Jeremy Ellero (University of New Caledonia)

The objective of this presentation is to make a significant contribution on the prospects of regional integration of the French Pacific territories in the current international context. More generally, the integration of islands with populations of fewer than one million into international trade flows is the key to the issues of insular development. The multilateral trading system is undergoing profound change and seems to be seeing a regional fragmentation of its spheres of influence. Since the early 2000’s, the initiative of the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA) and Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) would appear to be the first step towards the construction of a regional single market in the Pacific. But Oceania represents a market of seven million consumers scattered over one-third of the surface area of the globe. Geographical isolation, lack of commercial openings and the heterogeneous nature of the Pacific Island economies have a direct influence on commercial policies. Adopt the PICTA and PACER agreements for New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna, implies that the risk of trade diversion outweigh trade creation effect. Therefore, free trade shall be perceived locally as a first step towards regional integration in all areas: institutional, normative, academical, military, and scientific research.

Re-defining France’s presence in the South Pacific

Denise Fisher (Australian National University)

France is currently brokering an independence referendum process in New Caledonia by 2018, as required by the Noumea Accord, the last of a series of Accords which have presided over thirty years of peace, after bloody civil war over independence in the 1980s. The delicate referendum process will re-define France’s presence in the South Pacific at a time of regional change, with geostrategic implications and amidst greater competition for influence. This paper addresses France’s regional presence, issues and fragilities within New Caledonia itself, factors behind France’s continued interest in maintaining sovereignty, the broad and changing regional context, and UN engagement.

Large-scale marine protected area or large-scale marine managed area? A sovereignty issue in New Caledonia and French Polynesia

Marlène Dégremont (IRD - Institut de Recherche pour le Développement)

In April 2014, New Caledonia created the Natural Park of the Coral Sea on its maritime territory. About 1.3 million km², it encompasses pelagic areas from 12 nautical miles from the nearshore to the boundaries of the EEZ. As a large-scale marine protected area (LSMPA), it significantly increases the proportion of French Ocean under protection, as well as the number of Pacific LSMPAs. French Polynesia also intends to implement an overarching maritime framework to its 5.5 million km² EEZ, named “Tainui Atea” and considered as a large-scale marine managed area (LSMMA). The semantic choice in both territories is closely related to the MPAs projects history, the political and institutional contexts, and the specificities of marine environmental governance.
While the global ocean becomes a central policy issue and the perspective shifts from Small Islands Developing States to Large Ocean Island States, the actors of governmental spheres are taking up and adjust these singular environmental tools to redefine their positions and influence in transitional local and regional contexts. Focused on layered politico-territorial dynamics that shape the ocean scape, this proposal aims to explore how sovereignty issues emerge and evolve at different times and scales in the LSMPA/LSMMA implementation processes in a Pacific Region.

The Fiji locally-managed marine area network: Exploring both sides of the conservation frontier.

Elodie Fache (IRD - Institut de Recherche pour le Développement)

At the turn of the 21st century, a process of “renaissance” of community-based marine resource management was documented in the South Pacific region. In particular, marine protected areas (MPAs) of varying sizes have progressively been established. They have gained such a momentum that some fisheries specialists today identify an over-reliance on this specific management tool. Despite the remarkable development of “large-scale MPAs” in this region, most of the Pacific MPAs are categorized as “locally-managed marine areas” (LMMAs). To what extent do these LMMAs reflect an expansion of western/global conservationist ideologies in so-called Pacific small island developing states? To what degree do these LMMAs reveal a form of resistance from Pacific large ocean states to this expansion phenomenon?
This paper proposes to look at ethnographic data collected in Fiji in 2016, whose analysis is still in progress, through this double prism: the Fiji LMMA network both as a frontier and as “the other side of the frontier” (an expression used by Henry Reynolds in the 1980s to highlight the importance of exploring the Aboriginal response to the European invasion and settlement of Australia). This approach aims to contribute to the study of conservation and governance issues related to Pacific inshore areas.

A (still) virtual frontier: deep sea mining in the Pacific

Pierre-Yves Le Meur (IRD - Institut de Recherche pour le Développement)

International interest for deep sea mineral resources came back to the fore in the 2000s in a context of rush for raw materials partly driven by the rapid growth of emergent economies. However this potential has been slow to produce concrete outcomes and the most advanced seabed mining project, Solwara in PNG, remains stuck at the exploration phase and meets difficulties to recapitalize. Similarly the Cook Islands government has developed a sophisticated legal and policy framework to attract investors without significant results so far. This notwithstanding, the interest for DSM resources generates discursive and practical effects in terms of policy-making, claims of sovereignty, community-building and knowledge production, as well as regarding capital and technological flows. DSM constitutes a new frontier for mining corporations and global capital whereas Pacific island states and territories strive to anticipate the encounter by strengthening the boundaries of their sovereignty through the construction of a legal and policy framework, regional cooperation and the extension of the continental shelf. As for indigenous people and customary authorities, what is at stake is the cognitive and normative representation of oceanic spaces as integral part of their universe and worldview nurturing specific claims of non-Westphalian sovereignty. The paper will explore the DSM issue as a frontier for capital, knowledge and sovereignty in the fluid and contested Pacific oceanscapes.

The Pacific Ocean as a new frontier? Triangulation of perspectives

Colin Filer (Australian National University)

As the panel’s discussant, Colin Filer will triangulate the different perspectives brought up by the participants and attendees so as to shed new light on the multi-dimensional and multi-level reconfigurations of/in the Pacific Ocean. Can the concept of "frontier" be heuristically used to analyze the new rush for resources, the conflictual dialectic between extraction and conservation, and the environmental, economic, political and governance changes that are taking place in this oceanscape?