Next year the world community may finally agree on a treaty that will determine who owns the oceans which cover about 70 percent of the earth's surface.
A United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty is likely to be signed in 1981, but in practice it may not go into effect for at least 10 more years. That's how long it could take to get the treaty signed by a majority of its signatories.
The treaty, which in effect would bring the oceans under a form of world government, provides strict regulations limiting fisihing, seabed mining, and the transfer of technology.
The Law of the Sea Conference has made substantial progress, but it has taken years to iron out sharp differences. Some of the more difficult issues have still to be tackled in Geneva this July.
One long-outstanding problem is how to define the boundaries of the continental shelves and the economic zones of neighboring countries. Some countries favor abiding by set offshore limits, while others still hold out for more complex and, then claim, more equitable boundaries.
Another issue is establishing the guidelines under which a 36-member international council will make decisions. This council will have to determine the rules under which private companies may mine the trillions of potato- size manganese nodules that cover the ocean floor.