2002–Michael Orbach

Michael K. Orbach is professor of Marine Affairs and Policy and director of the Duke University Marine Laboratory and the Coastal Environmental Management Program in the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Duke University. During the years of 1976-1979, he was the social anthropologist and social science advisor for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Washington, D.C. From 1979 to 1982, he was associate director of the Center for Coastal Marine Studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz. In 1983-1993, he joined the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and became a professor of anthropology while occupying the position of senior scientist with the Institute for Coastal and Marine Resources at East Carolina University. In 1993, Dr. Orbach joined Duke University, at the Duke Marine Laboratory in Beaufort, North Carolina. He has performed research and been involved in policy making in coastal and marine issues across the United States and in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. He has also published widely on social science and policy in coastal and marine environments. Some of is honors, awards, and appointments include appointment to the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission (vice-chair), and North Carolina Ocean Affairs Council (chair); National Advisory Committee, National Coastal Resources Institute; Praxis Award (with J. Johnson); president, The Coastal Society; Advisory/Selection Committee, Pew Charitable Trusts Marine Conservation Scholars Program; Founding Board Member, North Carolina Shore and Beach Preservation Association; National Board of Directors, Surfrider Foundation; and the Science Advisory Committee, U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. He has served on several National Research Council Committees on Reducing Porpoise Mortality from Tuna Fishing, the National Sea Grant College Program, Science and Policy in the Coastal Ocean, and Individual Fishing Quotas and on the Ocean Studies Board. He holds a B.A. in economics from the University of California, Irvine and an M.A. and Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of California, San Diego.

Beyond the Freedom of the Seas: Ocean Policy for the Third Millennium

Up until the end of the first millenium anno Domini humans used the oceans primarily at their margins, lacking the desire or the ability to venture further out to sea. In the second millenium humans exploded in their exploration of the seas, crossing, charting and beginning to exploit the spaces and resources of most of the world’s oceans, at least to the depth of a few hundred fathoms. In the last half of this second millenium, the formal doctrine of mare liberum, “freedom of the seas”, emerged under which most uses of the world’s oceans remained unregulated within any common community except for the constraints of individual nation states upon their own citizens. This “freedom of the seas” doctrine emerged for a very practical reason: No single nation or group of nations could effectively either monitor or control activities on the oceans except within fairly close proximity to land, and thus the “freedom” approach emerged as the negotiated compromise. Incursions have been made into this “freedom”, notably in the 200-mile extensions of jurisdiction among coastal nations in the 1970s and 80s and in such proposals as the Common Heritage of Mankind approach to ocean resources advanced during the United Nations Law of the Sea negotiations. However, most of the world’s oceans still remain in a state of “freedom” as an unregulated commons. This “freedom” has had tragic consequences for many of the living marine resources and for water quality and habitat of the world’s oceans as well as promoting unnecessary competition and conflict over ocean space and resources. We now have the technological capability to monitor and, if we wish, control human activities virtually anywhere on the world’s ocean. This presentation presented alternative futures for the governance of the world’s oceans and their resources, “beyond the freedom of the seas” and into the third millenium.

Click here to view the 2002 program.


In 1999, the Ocean Studies Board (OSB) launched the Roger Revelle Commemorative Lecture to highlight the important links between ocean science and public policy. The series was named in honor of the late Roger Revelle, a leader in the field of oceanography for over 50 years who spearheaded efforts to investigate the mechanisms and consequences of climate change. In recognition of the critical importance of education in linking science and public policy, the OSB has partnered with the Smithsonian Science Education Center and the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History to bring the Revelle Lecture to a broader audience. The lecture is held annually in conjunction with the OSB meeting in Washington, DC.


  • National Science Foundation (NSF)
  • The Office of Naval Research (ONR)
  • The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • The Smithsonian Science Education Center
  • The National Museum of Natural History
  • The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation


For more information, please contact:

Kenza Sidi-Ali-Cherif
Program Assistant
Ocean Studies Board
(202) 334-3361