Law of the sea, the continental shelf, and marine research

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Abstract

The question of the amount of seabed to which a coastal nation is entitled is addressed in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This treaty, ratified by 153 nations and in force since 1994, specifies national obligations, rights, and jurisdiction in the oceans, and it allows nations a continental shelf out to at least 200 nautical miles or to a maritime boundary. Article 76 (A76) of the convention enables coastal nations to establish their continental shelves beyond 200 nautical miles and therefore to control, among other things, access for scientific research and the use of seabed resources that would otherwise be considered to lie beyond national jurisdiction.

To date, seven submissions for extended continental shelves (ECS) have been filed under UNCLOS (Table 1). These submissions have begun to define the ambiguities in A76. How these ambiguities are resolved into final ECS boundaries will probably set important precedents guiding the future delimitation of the ECS by the United States, which has not ratified the convention, and other coastal nations. This report uses examples from the first three submissions—by the Russian Federation, Brazil, and Australia—to identify outstanding issues encountered in applying A76 to ECS delimitation.

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