The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is an international agreement that emerged from the third United nations Convention Conference on the Law of the Sea (1973 through 1982). The basic thought behind UNCLOS was to create a set of international legislations that set out the rights and responsibilities of nations concerning their use of the world's oceans, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources . UNCLOS came into force on November the 16th 1994 and replaced the less detailed freedom of the seas concept, which dated back to 17th century, this specified that a nations rights were limited to a belt of water that extended for 3 nautical miles from the coastline, all waters beyond this point were considered international waters and free to all nations.
Upon introduction, UNCLOS introduced a number of new regulations and proposals which included setting limits, navigation, archipelagic status and transit regimes, exclusive economic zones (EEZs), continental shelf jurisdiction, deep seabed mining, the exploitation regime, protection of the marine environment, scientific research, and settlement of marine disputes.
UNCLOS sets a legally binding international standard, which aims to protect the marine wildlife and environment. One of the most important components of the Law of the sea is that it set new limits and regulations for a variety of different areas. These areas can be seen on the image below and are described as follows:
Internal waters: this area Covers all water and waterways on the landward side of the baseline. The coastal state is free to set laws, regulate use, and use any resource. Foreign vessels have no right of passage within internal waters.
Territorial waters: This area stretches Out to 12 nautical miles from the baseline, the coastal state is free to set laws, regulate use, and use any resource. International Vessels are given the right of innocent passage through any territorial waters
Contiguous zone: this area stretches a further 12 or 24 nautical miles from the territorial sea baseline limit and in this zone a state can continue to enforce laws regarding activities such as smuggling or illegal immigration.
Continental shelf: The continental shelf is defined as the natural prolongation of the land territory to the continental margin's outer edge, or 200 nautical miles from the coastal state’s baseline, whichever is greater. State’s continental shelf may exceed 200 nautical miles until the natural prolongation ends, but it may never exceed 350 nautical miles. States have the right to harvest mineral and non-living material in the subsoil of its continental shelf.
There is currently a large debate about how well the treaty is doing as it proposed, although for member states the treaty protects the environment and valuable resources many feel that it will not fully serve its purpose unless a greater number of influential countries sign up to it. UNCLOS is a fundamental tool to be used and referred to whilst carrying out coastal zone management.