I doubt that any of you remember "the guy with the island". Basically, about 3 months ago, I asked a whole slew of questions that were preparatory for a book project.

Now, the book is very nearly finished, save for the last chapter, which states what befalls the island whose exploration was chronicled in the previous chapter. However, I'm not really sure of the protocol that would be undertaken in such a scenario.

Synopsis of the plot:

In 2019, a scientist comes across a massive island (The size of Spitsbergen) in the Indian ocean (at the top of the Ninety East Ridge) and notifies the president of his organization. An exploratory expedition is organized, and a week later, a team of experts land on the island and begin exploring. After 4 days, they discovery hundreds of new species.

However, they spot a helicopter flying overhead and follow it to where it lands. There, they are confronted by a group of armed men and betrayed by their own security team. They are brought to the facility which the helicopter belongs to and learn that a powerful oil-drilling corporation is exploiting the island's resources. They also learn how the island has remained "undiscovered"* for so long (See accepted answer). The oil corporation holds the scientists hostage, but they manage to escape captivity and notify their organization of the company's illegal activities, who in turn inform the authorities.

The oil corporation is disbanded by the American government and the team of scientists are collected and go back to civilization, with the specimens they collected.

TL;DR: A team of scientists explore a large island, discover hundreds of new species, expose an illegal oil drilling operation, and leave the island.

My question:

After these events, what are the standard international protocols for what would happen to the island? Taking into consideration:

  • The island is very, very large
  • It contains hundreds or thousands of new species, including megafauna, almost all of them undocumented by scientists
  • It is rich in resources
  • There is no other ecosystem like it on the planet

These criteria are a mix of either A) It would be a great piece of land to have in your country, and B) Its environment is fragile and untouched by humans, so should be protected. My question is: Are there any United Nations protocols or guidelines for the claiming, or lack of claiming, a newly found landmass, particularly one with a fragile ecosystem?

This new, edited question (Shown in bold) is no longer broad, it is a single, specific question.

*Many people have alluded to me that the island could not have remained undiscovered for so long. Perhaps you could just assume that it appeared by magic for the purpose of answering the question, BUT I would rather a realistic answer still. Please note that this question is not tagged reality-check.

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ There is no standard international protocol in modern times for dealing with newly-discovered lands. None. It's a matter of opinion what might happen - a judicious discussion and agreement at the UN that everybody accepts, or a rowdy and violent free-for-all. Historical precedent leans toward the latter (first come, first claim, king-of-the-mountain), but it's a pre-1945 precedent. Post-1945 agreements covering Antarctica and The Moon prohibit such claims...but exploitation of those was purely hypothetical when written. It's a wide open field for the author to fill in. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Jun 16, 2018 at 18:03
  • $\begingroup$ I know the previous part is already settled, but, couldn't your ecosystem have been covered by ice? We already know subglacial lakes, islands and volcanos. Even a bottle can sustain an ecosystem isolated from the outside. With a bit of luck there could be some air (if the ice cap is not too thick to compress it liquid) and the volcano could sustain some dry land. $\endgroup$
    – Rafael
    Jun 21, 2018 at 13:57

6 Answers 6


It belongs to America

The US Navy is larger than the rest of the world's navies combined, and all of the runners up are US allies. The same is true of the US air force.

The US president, already quite disillusioned with international organizations like the UN, simply claims the land. A bunch of foreign leaders get very angry about this, but when China tries to assert a claim and the USA sinks everything floating thing with a Chinese flag in 36 hours, everybody else just backs off.

The US government is already one of the largest - perhaps the largest - land owners in the world. The Island becomes federally managed land, and gets treated just like all the federally managed land in the USA.

  • $\begingroup$ I can't tell if this is a sarcastic answer acknowledging the disgust of a bully nation or if it's a gung ho patriotic yay war mongering cheer. Either way, I don't think the USA would sink ships to claim and island. They would just suffocate everyone with sanctions and tariffs and massively inconvenience everyone with their unrelenting and wildly unnecessary / unwanted military presence until profitability, no matter who owns the land, was in favor of the so called greatest country on earth. $\endgroup$
    – Kai Qing
    Jun 19, 2018 at 23:25
  • $\begingroup$ I vaguely remember a US policy that they're explicitly not territorially expansionist, they prefer to do all their expansion by proxy. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Jun 21, 2018 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ @KaiQing I don't know, the inciting incident for the US joining in Vietnam was a battle with imaginary gunboats. Who's to say we wouldn't be forced into "Sinking" some "Warships" in order to defend this new island? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… $\endgroup$
    – UIDAlexD
    Jun 21, 2018 at 14:15
  • $\begingroup$ Slightly different era though. Back then you could just make shit up without anyone watching you. Today there are too many eyes on them to just blatantly attack... though... it is the USA. I guess I wouldn't put it past them to be blatant and then make some idiotic public statement and total lie justifying it in about the most implausible way one could conjure up. I'd say that alone would work in a story but by this point it would be too exhausting to write another expose that nobody would bother learning anything from $\endgroup$
    – Kai Qing
    Jun 21, 2018 at 15:39

To answer your question, the civilized and respectful nations of our world, guided only by purest altruistic and humanitarian goals, wage a bloody merciless war across the entire planet; culminating with one group of countries emerging victorious, just as the losing nations unify to nuke the new island so heavily that they shake the mantle, setting off every volcano and super-caldera simultaneously and finally curing our dear planet of its human infestation.

Your story then turns out to be a tale of alien invasion, in which the invaders slowly lowered an asteroid into the Indian ocean using cloaking and a moonless night to cover their actions, then flew back to the dark side of the moon to wait while we cleared the planet for them.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Now THIS could work. $\endgroup$ Jun 16, 2018 at 17:42

Historia magistra vitae

  • In August 1492, Cristopher Columbus was sailing peacefully on the Atlantic Ocean, travelling from Spain to an undocumented destination in Asia. Lo and behold, suddenly, in front of his three pitiful caravels rose a mighty double continent which, in the fullness of time, would be named the Americas. The first thing Columbus did was to wade ashore, read some mumbo-jumbo from a parchment scroll, and proclaim the new land a possession of the most Catholic Monarchs Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon; this ceremony, short as it was, made the Americas a Spanish territory, and opened them to the civilizing efforts of the conquistadors.

    Soon other powers learned about the new immense addition to the territories of the Spanish crown, and wanted a piece of the action. Intense diplomatic action averted the war, with the Treaty of Tordesillas dividing the New World between Spain and Portugal along a meridian 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands. Not much later, the English, the French and the Dutch entered the fray, and the final division of the newly emerged continents was settled only hundreds of years later and after many wars.

  • The story of Tahiti is different. It rose out of the Pacific in 1767, in front of Samuel Wallis, who was attempting a circumnavigation of the world aboard the sixth-rate frigate HMS Dolphin. Wallis did not rush to plant a flag and claim the island for the British Crown; actually, the European powers left the island to its own devices for more than half a century; but eventually France claimed sovereignty over the tropical paradise, mostly by the efforts of Admiral Abel Aubert Dupetit Thouars; up to this day Tahiti remains an integral part of France.

  • Most instructive is the brief but lively history of Graham Island, which literally emerged from the waves of the Mediterranean on 1 August 1831, in the strait of Sicily, and was promptly discovered and claimed for Britain by Sir Humphrey Fleming Senhouse, captain of the first-rate Royal Navy ship of the line HMS St. Vincent.

    The King of Sicily also realized its strategic significance, and dispatched the corvette Etna to claim the new land and dub it Ferdinandea in honor of King Ferdinand II. Last on the scene was Constant Prévost, a co-founder of the French Geological Society, who compared the eruption to a bottle of champagne being uncorked. He named the island Julia, because it was born in July, and probably also in reference to France’s July Monarchy. Diplomatic disputes over the island’s status ensued. (Wikipedia)

    Seeing the trouble it caused to powers of the time, the island decided to avoid war at all costs. Less than four months after its emergence, it sank under the blue waters of the sea. But humans never forget:

    After 1863, the volcano lay dormant for many decades, its summit just 8 m below sea level. In 2000, renewed seismic activity around Graham Island led volcanologists to speculate that a new eruptive episode could be imminent, and the seamount might once again become an island.[4] To forestall a renewal of the sovereignty disputes, Italian divers planted a flag on the top of the volcano in advance of its expected resurfacing. (Wikipedia)


Ecosystems don't count. Rare species of cute animals and plants don't count. Resources count. A new island rich in resources discovered in the Indian Ocean would trigger a scramble to be the first to plants a flag. India, China, the U.S. of A., and possibly Pakistan would compete in a multilateral multilayered contest to claim sovereignty. (My money would be on China.) This is how it has always been, this is how it shall always be.


Sorry for necroing the post, but since US disbanded the corporation, US gets to keep its assets. Kinda like police keeps the money of the drug lords that they arrest.

UN and European countries will indeed be trying to get US to protect the environment, and they will be as successful as they were with Climate Change talks. I.e. not very successful (google "trump paris agreement").
Besides, your fragile environment have somehow survived an evil corporation, so it will survive US governance (EPA and all).

If China manages to get enough military assets into the area, or if India provides sufficient help to US, then US might let them have some chunk of the island.

There will be no war over the island, at least no major war between superpowers. Resources are useful, but not worth ruining the economy. US has learned this in Iraq; China will not go to active war against US, b/c decline in its export-oriented economy will exceed value of the resources.


OK, here we go:

During this scientist's voyage for some other purpose -so we can safely assume, same other indications, that he wasn't here with a team, but perhaps on a cruise- a big island magics itself into existence. And since islands are the peaks of marine mountains, it could appear at the peak of a preeexisting mountain.

The cruise ships is at a safe distance when this happens and avoids crashing into it, but the island is quite visible. The crew can't believe their eyes. People aboard get curious: No one had told them there would be an island on their route. Even less the scientist.

Before you can say 'the heck?!' smartphones are going crazy. Everyone is filming, taking pictures. The island becomes viral at the speed of light. Internet is divided: Fake news or the greatest event ever?

Worldwide, higher brasses are definitely serious about this: satellites are sending pictures of the obvious. ISS crew would tell NASA to stop the station over the island if they could.

Within the hour, the world knows. The political situation can be resumed in one word: frenzy! A UN emergency meeting is called, and so does NATO. Even the ISIS must stop its nefarious activities to decide if this is a sign of Allah or something else...

As the world is standing by, all academies, research centers, civilian and military, ask to go to the island, and sure as heck everyone else would have a piece first. But for once prudence overcomes frenzy. it is not a question of treaties, after all there are no precedents.

First of all, no one wants to start a war for this new land. Too many nuclear powers involved, India Pakistan and China being geographically closer. Second, whatever made that monster appear out of nothing could easily do whatever it wanted to any intruder.

Scientists win the first round. A multinational, multi-specialist team will be sent alongside a contractor team with one purpose only: examining everything in full transparency, live, full broadcast. Of course, this is not some generous concession from the politicians or the military: basically, it's impossibile to hide something like this, a censorship on trasmissions would spark a global revolt, and anyway the Indian Ocean is way too big to be policed efficiently. At least, best make sure that everyone knows what's happening and whats' being discovered so that no one will take undue advantages.

Hoping the expedition will not meet someone or something with a foul attitude...


I would take a look at something like the Antarctica treaty or the UN Outer Space Treaty if you want a more realistic answer in a modern society. Considering in your question you state that this island has a very fragile ecosystem, the UN and environmentalist groups will be in huge uproar to protect the island from governments and or people. However, I could see in a matter of a few decades or centuries perhaps that the island, if it survives, could form its own government since based on your description it sounds like it is livable there.

Or considering that there are a ton of new species on the island, one of them could turn out to be intelligent in which case they could come into the public spotlight, friendly or hostile, depending on their temperament, the island would either be forbidden to outsiders or there is also the possibility of uniting it with the outside world. Of course the most likely course of action taken in either case would make it forbidden to outsiders to protect the species present from contamination, diseases, and other potentially harmful animal/plant species as well.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .