TREASURES OF THE SHELF

It is a subject least talked about.....yet its an issue of immense bounty.....Nirmal has some insights

[VICTORIA 17/03/2008] “It may be quite misleading to equate a small island with a small nation. An island with an Exclusive Economic Zone  (EEZ) covers a sea area of 431,000 sq. kilometers while an extended archipelago country may extend over a much larger area, such as the 1,374,000 sq. kilometer EEZ of the Seychelles. Measured per capita, most small island islanders are therefore enormously rich in terms of marine resources.” These words are from an 18 page article I wrote in the UNESCO journal, Nature and Resources, back in 1995.

The Seychelles had already laid claim to its territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone  between 1977 and 1978. A new Maritime Zones Act was enacted in 1999 to be in conformity with UNCLOS, the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, which came into force in 1994.

Under this landmark Convention every coastal State gets a 200-mile continental shelf automatically and this is the basis of the EEZ. But, some coastal States can claim an extended continental shelf beyond 200 miles if the shelf meets the criteria under Article 76 of Convention. Article 76, is entitled "Definition of the Continental Shelf” and it lays down technical criteria for defining the shelf and its extensions.

Countries have 10 years following ratification of the Convention to make a claim for extended continental shelf. Currently 145 states have ratified the Convention. The deadline for claiming an extended continental shelf is now May 2009. About 60 countries have a potential extended continental shelf. Most have begun work to support a claim.

Now, in a major move, the Seychelles is preparing to make its claim for extending its continental shelf along with Tanzania because of shared borders.  All such claims are based on very technical criteria and involve data collection and analysis. Joint submissions, as in our case with Tanzania, are also a challenge. And time is not on our side. But the stakes are very high.

The State has exclusive sovereign rights over the natural resources of the shelf. This includes oil, gas, and other mineral resources and bottom-living species  such as clams, crabs, scallops, sponges, and mollusks. The State also has control over marine scientific research on and below the continental shelf. There may be untold riches lying on the shelf just waiting to be discovered.

An extended continental shelf will secure maximum territorial advantage for us. As I said in the 1995 article, “It might seem more appropriate therefore to shift perceptions away from seeing island states like Seychelles only as nations  with a tiny land mass and more as nations with large coastal and marine territories”.[ENDS]

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