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Donahue discusses sea of problems

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Karen Donahue speaks about the imminent issues of population growth and it’s effects on the environment. In her “Law of the Sea: Demographic Determinants of Changes in Ocean Law Over Time” lecture, Donahue focused on the history of maritime advancements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, from fishing methods to the impact of oil spills on the ocean ecosystem. / photo by Mitchell Aleman

Karlie Bettencourt
Staff Writer

A presentation about ocean laws turned into a discussion about issues facing the world today that concern the environment and international laws.

Karen Donahue, professor of sociology, spoke about demographic determinants of changes in ocean law over time as part of her faculty lecture on Monday afternoon.

Donahue presented four key issues that affect the ocean: population, organization, environment and technology.

Oceans provide food, usable energy, recreation, a highway for commerce, a sink for waste and also regulates the planet’s temperature, Donahue said.

As the population grew from 1 billion in 1804 to 7 billion in 2011, changes occurred in the ways that oceans were used and regulated.

After explaining multiple treaties and laws about the ocean, the topic of conversation turned into analysis about the way that capitalism is perceived.

“Institutions are growth machines,” Donahue said. “We always want more. The more people there are, the less wages you pay and the higher everything costs.”

The wealthy encourage growth through opposing abortion, increasing immigration, cutting family clinics, opposing social security and offering tax deductions for dependent children, Donahue said.

“I thought it was interesting when (Donahue) said the incorporations push increased populations,” said David Werner, associate professor of English.

Due to human population growth, the fish population has decreased more than the United States can sustain.

The first ways that ocean territory was claimed was known as the cannon shot. It was the distance that a cannon could be shot from the shore into the ocean; usually this was three nautical miles.

This was not so much a way to claim the land for economical reasons but to be able to protect a nation’s border. It was also efficient for commerce trading and natives of maritime nations.

The cannon shot way of claiming land was argued over as the population grew, technology advanced and oil pollution increased.

Fish populations were dwindling because of the increase in population and also because of technology advancements that allowed them to be shipped inland and not only consumed by those who lived by the sea.

“Technological advances have improved our lives, but each one has caused a negative effect,” Donahue said.

As ships went from being powered by coal-fired steam engines to oil power ships, the pollution greatly increased.

“We thought that if we did extend the boundaries, then maybe we would take care of it. Unfortunately, we were wrong,” Donahue said.

“When all are concerned about new finds in oil and gas, you have international war as potential,” said Bill Cook, professor of English.

“Lebanon doesn’t have the technology that Israel does. So now they are drilling at an angle to take the oil they have and if you don’t have international interference, you have a war,” Cook added.

The continuation of population and technological growth resulted in the marine life being worried about by the early 1920s.

Pressure from environmental groups pushed the League of Nations to study the ocean and its use.

“The League of Nations had success in regulating whaling,” Donahue said.

They were able to prohibit whaling of certain species, immature whales and females accompanied by calves.

A Halibut Treaty was also created to stop overfishing of Halibut; unfortunately the UN did not take ecological interdependence into account and only had two countries agree to it.

Another treaty created was for the Alaskan Salmon. It stated that only 50 percent of salmon in the US could be caught. Unfortunately, Japan took salmon before they came into the US to spawn.

These treaties came about due to overfishing because of population growth.

“We have birth control,” Donahue said. “We have a way to control population growth. We do have to work on recycling, we have to work on everything, but if we can’t control the population, we can’t control the others.”

Karlie Bettencourt can be reached at

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