UPDATE: Was the “Rogue” Ocean Fertilization Experiment Legal?

Written by on October 31, 2012 in Policy & Ocean Law

A few weeks ago, we reported on Russ George’s “rogue” ocean fertilization experiment in the Pacific Ocean.  In the days since the initial report from The Guardian, scientists and environmentalists have analyzed the science of his experiment and debated the legality of it.

The ETC Group, an environmental watchdog group, has determined that it did indeed violate international law, including the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the London convention on dumping waste at sea, or the London Protocol.

However, Edward Parson, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, explained that the CBD only discourages ocean fertilization so the decisions are advisory, not legally binding.  And, while the London Protocol is legally binding, it only applies to materials dumped as waste.

Because the iron was dumped as part of an experiment and not as waste, Parsons explains that “there is no violation under international treaty.”

It is still unclear if the experiment violated any Canadian laws.

An example of a phytoplankton bloom. This one was in the South Atlantic Ocean.

An example of a phytoplankton bloom. This one was in the South Atlantic Ocean. Photo credit NOAA.

As for the science, it wasn’t very reliable.  Satellite images from before and after the experiment do show an increase in phytoplankton, but it is almost impossible to place the blame entirely on George’s experiment because blooms happen naturally every summer.  One oceanographer notes that the experimenters did not set up careful control studies, so no real scientific data will come from this test.

To learn more:

Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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  1. one by one says:

    There were years of controls- before and after the experiment, plus all the sea around it.

  2. Emily says:

    Could you point me to some links about previous controls?