Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography and Anthropology

Document Type



The ocean has long played a minor role in human geography; imagining it as natural space rather than an extractive space even less significant. This dissertation explores the most revered kind of American nature preservation: wilderness. Despite the millions of acres set aside as wilderness in the United States, no such designation exists for ocean-space as a discrete entity. Through the analysis of congressional hearings, bills, resolutions, public laws, and maps, this dissertation uncovers the complex constructs of the production of legal wilderness. Furthermore, it uncovers a novel vein of inquiry, that of the ocean as a preserved natural space. Looking to the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act of 1972, this research establishes how the former fails to construct ocean wilderness and how the latter does much the same. Despite the ocean’s prominent place as the largest earth covering, the largest wilderness, and one of the most economically viable spaces on the planet, we systematically fall short in its preservation. With the limited exception of the 2006 advent of the Marine National Monument, most spaces are protected in varying degrees of conservation (resource extractive) rather than preservation (protection for inherent value). Furthermore, human geography has largely and paradoxically overlooked the spatial qualities of ocean-space; often looking only to its fringes (the littoral) and its surface-space as viable social domains. This dissertation proposes an additional layer of spatial construction, where volume and water column are as integral to the concept of the ocean as littoral and surface spaces; and, where the ocean is its own standalone, singular feature, rather than an appendage to adjoining lands.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Colten, Craig