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Securing maritime boundaries

Securing maritime boundaries and promoting the blue economy

The challenge

A country’s ability to manage its marine resources requires legal certainty concerning its maritime boundaries. Uncertainty over boundaries and entitlements can lead to conflict over access to resources, stifle investment and hinder the development of alternative energy sources. It can also undermine the potential of the seas as an economic resource for fisheries, tourism, minerals and marine biotechnology.

Under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, many Commonwealth member countries are entitled to increase their ocean space and make ‘extended continental shelf’ submissions. But our smallest and most vulnerable states have yet to agree on maritime boundaries with their neighbours. In the Pacific region alone, national entitlements overlap in at least 48 marine areas. Only 21 are covered by treaties.

Commonwealth member countries have successfully secured more than 1.8 million square kilometres of seabed with our assistance.

Commonwealth action

For nearly three decades the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation has provided advice to countries to help them exercise their rights under international law. Over this period, we have provided legal and technical support to more than 30 countries. Of the 51 extended continental shelf submissions lodged with the UN up to December 2014, 17 were prepared with our support.

We are also leading the way in helping member countries unlock the value of the blue economy by promoting ocean governance. Today, our ground-breaking work includes developing high-value marine sector jobs in Seychelles, supporting Vanuatu on blue carbon and climate regulations, and helping St Vincent and the Grenadines and the Bahamas create national ocean policies. We are also advising Mauritius on enabling offshore exploration while ensuring the conservation of marine species.

Global value

Our work has contributed to the establishment of maritime zones across Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

Commonwealth member countries have successfully obtained more than 1.8 million square kilometres of seabed with our assistance – with more still to be claimed at the United Nations. We have helped to negotiate ten treaties among Pacific states resulting in settled boundaries, including two trilateral treaties that resolved borders between Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries.

We have promoted multilateral co-operation in ocean governance to deliver lasting results. The Eastern Caribbean Regional Ocean Policy – developed by the Commonwealth in association with the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States – is just one example of how we have helped to improve the management of marine resources globally.