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1st Edition of Marine Protected Areas for Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises

Exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and the high-seas

The United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (1973–82) established territorial seas for coastal countries extending up to 12 nautical miles (22.2 km) from their coastlines. Furthermore, UNCLOS instituted the idea that countries could claim management jurisdiction of natural resources to the limits of an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) automatically extending from 12 nm (22.2 km) to 200 nm (371 km) and out to 350 nm (649 km) if the country can prove that the continental shelf extends uninterrupted. This means that the sea bed within these so-called ‘EEZs’ can be leased or given away as part of oil or mineral rights, and the fish and other resources in the water itself can be exploited. The countries themselves are responsible for management. Some countries have disputed EEZ claims, have conflicts with neighbouring countries or territories, or have not for one reason or other staked a claim. Others are now in the process of claiming the extra area between 200 nm (371 km) and 350 nm (649 km), based on the latest mapping, with all claims due by 2009. With continental shelf extension claims for as many as 60 countries amounting to 5 per cent of the total ocean sea floor, or 5.8 million square miles (15 million sq km), this marine and sea-bed grab will redefine national territories and the high seas in the next decade (Malakoff, 2002). Yet the situation for the rest of this decade is that roughly half the surface area of the world ocean remains in international waters. This is the so-called high seas. The culture of the high seas – with its long history of open access and its role as shipping highway and hunting ground (fish, seals, whales) – has been slow to come under national or international management. However, international laws, treaties and conventions are beginning to address the means for managing, or jointly managing, the high seas. It is hoped that concern over protecting critical cetacean habitat, and application of the precautionary approach to allow for the large gaps in our knowledge, will lead researchers, conservation organizations and governments to ensure that important high seas habitats are protected too, devising new strategies as needed.

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