11/30/2012 07:53 EST | Updated 01/30/2013 05:12 EST

Canada, U.S. urged to resolve dispute over island

A former U.S. diplomat is calling on the Canadian and American governments to settle the ownership of Machias Seal Island, the last remaining land dispute between the two nations.

The small island in the Bay of Fundy is known as a haven for puffins but it is also claimed by both countries.

Stephen Kelly, the associate director of Canadian Studies at Duke University, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times calling on the governments to settle the more than 200-square-mile "grey area" between Grand Manan and the coast of Maine.

Kelly, who served in several diplomatic posts for the United States in Canada, said this is an ideal time to solve the dispute over the island.

He said the “stakes are low at the moment” and he recommended allowing the International Court of Justice to resolve the fight.

"Given the great relationship between the U.S. and Canada, I think it would be in both of our interests to make sure that Machias Seal Island never becomes a reason for discord between us,” he said.

“I think the best way to do that is to let a third party arbitrate it."

The disputed area includes Machias Seal Island, a six-hectare treeless outcrop and breeding ground for puffins during the summer.

But, according to the Canadian government, there is nothing to dispute in the Bay of Fundy.

“Machias Seal Island and the surrounding waters are Canadian. The United States disputes this,” wrote Jessica Seguin, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs, in a statement.

“Canada's sovereignty over Machias Seal Island and sovereign jurisdiction over the 210 square nautical mile surrounding waters is strongly founded in international law.

"Pending resolution of this issue between Canada and the United States, regional authorities of both states have taken practical steps, notably for fisheries management, to avoid incidents. This does not detract from Canada's sovereignty over the islands and the adjacent waters.”

But the United States draws on the Treaty of Paris in 1783 following the American Revolution as proof of ownership of the tiny island.

Tony Diamond leads a team of researchers from the University of New Brunswick every summer to study birds on the small island. He said he sees no reason to change the status quo.

"I don't see any reason to change the way it is. It's working at the moment and I don't think it needs fixing,” he said.

The biology professor says he's more concerned about the marine eco-system than geo-political disputes.