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Murky Waters: Ambiguous International Law for Ocean Fertilization and Other Geoengineering

40 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2013  

Grant Wilson

Global Catastrophic Risk Institute

Date Written: August 19, 2013


In July 2012, the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC) dumped about 100 tons of iron sulfate into the Pacific Ocean some 200 nautical miles west of Haida Gwaii in British Columbia, Canada. While nominally for restoring depleted salmon stocks, HSRC’s ocean fertilization also served as a geoengineering experiment. This paper first looks at ocean fertilization in the context of global catastrophic risk (GCR) — both as a method to mitigate potentially catastrophic climate change and as a major risk itself with unknown environmental effects. The paper then analyzes the HSRC’s ocean fertilization activities under the London Convention and London Protocol, which regulate dumping at sea, concluding that Canada was probably (but not certainly) required to enact and enforce laws to restrict ocean fertilization. Whether Canada met this burden requires more facts than are publicly available, although Canada’s monitoring of geoengineering and enforcement of relevant laws was clearly suboptimal. The paper then discusses some of the GCR themes relating to the HSRC’s ocean fertilization, such as the importance of monitoring and reporting activities by rogue actors and lessons learned for governing other types of geoengineering, such as aerosol injection. Finally, in light of the ambiguities of the London Convention and London Protocol as they apply to ocean fertilization and other marine threats with unknown effects (such as chemical dispersants), and considering the need to regulate geoengineering more broadly, this paper makes recommendations on how the international community can continue to develop geoengineering governance.

Keywords: geoengineering, ocean fertilization, nonstate actors, global catastrophic risk, international law, london protocol, london convention, climate change

Suggested Citation

Wilson, Grant, Murky Waters: Ambiguous International Law for Ocean Fertilization and Other Geoengineering (August 19, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Grant Wilson (Contact Author)

Global Catastrophic Risk Institute ( email )

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