During the past decade, many coastal States have been engaged in peacefully establishing the limits of their maritime jurisdiction. This represents an historical milestone towards the defnition of maritime sovereignty, and presents enormous economic opportunities for coastal States, but also brings new environmental challenges and responsibilities.
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States may secure their legal entitlement to the seabed by submitting information on the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles as defned in Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
This is profoundly signifcant in that it will enable many developing coastal States and small island nations to access valuable natural resources, such as oil, gas and minerals, as well as sedentary organisms.
The high costs and extensive technical capacity required to comply with the provisions of Article 76 were recognized by the UN General Assembly. Accordingly, in 2002 they called on the UN Environment Programme’s Global Resource Information Database (GRID) network to assist interested states, particularly developing States and small island developing nations. This gave rise to the UNEP Shelf Programme, which along with other international initiatives, has been providing data and technical assistance to States preparing proposals to defne their national jurisdiction.
All States have an obligation to ensure that their territorial rights – including marine territories – are secured for future generations. Importantly, the rules and regulations regarding the continental shelf require the States to safeguard the environment and share benefts from resource development with developing States. Furthermore, the ocean beyond national jurisdiction remains the common heritage of all mankind.
Today there are legitimate concerns about the state of the marine environment, and its unique and largely un documented ecosystems. While resource development in these marine areas will likely present additional challenges and environmental management issues, the sustainable development of these areas could result in long-term economic and environmental benefts. Therefore States should consider all options, including the establishment of marine protected areas, which could support eco-tourism and healthy fsheries.
Continental Shelf: The Last Maritime Zone examines the status of the submissions made to date and begins to illustrate a new world map – one which will hopefully help reduce poverty and lead to the wise use of ocean resources.