International Submarine Cables and Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction

  • Douglas R. Burnett, Lionel Carter
  • Brill Research Perspectives in the Law of the Sea, July 2017, Brill
  • DOI: 10.1163/24519359-12340002

Submarine Cables and Biodiversity Beyone National Jurisdiiton-The Cloud is under the Sea

What is it about?

If one uses Facebook, Facetime, Skype, Netflix, or any application of the internet internationally, a submarine cable is involved. Fibre optic cables bind the world together and computer server farms, maintained by major telecom and content companies, allow vast amounts of data to be stored and retrieved from the cloud. Not often appreciated is the fact that these worldwide server locations are connected by submarine fibre optic cables. In this sense, the cloud is beneath the sea. While submarine communication cables have been in steady use since 1850, their preeminent place in the modern world has never been as dominant and personal as now. In International Submarine Cables and Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, Douglas R. Burnett and Lionel Carter examine the time proven importance of the existing international treaties, the largely peer-reviewed science on the environmental interaction of submarine cables with high seas environments, and the current submarine cable issues in the context of the BBNJ debates.

Why is it important?

Recently, calls have mounted in the context of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) for centralized control of submarine cables and for express or de facto diminishment of the freedoms related to them via the united Nations Convention on Law of the Sea that have served the world’s peoples for so long.


Lionel Carter
Victoria University of Wellington

In assessing the environmental aspects of submarine cables, the book draws on a substantial literature that includes independent, peer-reviewed papers published in established international science journals as well as open-file industry reports. That information is available to the public, and is listed in a bibliography that can be found at Thus, our assessment is evidence-based and highlights the low to nil effect of cables on the environment. Conversely, it is important to identify the effects of the environment on cables, especially in light of their role as the “backbone” of the internet and rapid movement of information and data around the planet. In the case of the BBNJ, natural environmental hazards such as landslides, turbidity currents and ocean currents cause 4 cable faults per annum world-wide, attesting to the resilience of deep ocean cables.

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The following have contributed to this page: Doug Burnett, Lionel Carter, and Lionel Carter