The United Nations Law of the Sea helps nations determine the extent of their territory beneath the ocean. This map displays different nation's claims on the area around the North Pole.

Map by Bill Rankin
  • On September 10, 1964, the Convention on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone, a part of the second UN Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS II), went into effect. This treaty outlined a nation’s rights and responsibilities for commerce and conservation in its coastal and territorial waters.

    UNCLOS is one of the most important treaties drafted by the United Nations. The newest version (UNCLOS III, enacted in 1994) defines how nations determine their exclusive economic zones (EEZs), an area 200 nautical miles off a nation’s coast. Within their EEZ, a nation has autonomy over its exploration and exploitation of marine resources, including fishing, mining, and energy production. Outside its EEZ, a nation must cooperate with other signatories of UNCLOS to follow its international regulations.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    autonomy Noun


    coast Noun

    edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: coast
    commerce Noun

    trade, or the exchange of goods and services.

    draft Verb

    sketch or outline.

    energy Noun

    capacity to do work.

    exclusive economic zone (EEZ) Noun

    zone extending 200 nautical miles off a country's coast. A country has the right to explore and exploit the living and nonliving things in its EEZ.

    exploit Verb

    to use or take advantage of for profit.

    exploration Noun

    study and investigation of unknown places, concepts, or issues.

    international Adjective

    having to do with more than one country.

    marine Adjective

    having to do with the ocean.

    mining Noun

    process of extracting ore from the Earth.

    regulation Noun

    rule or law.

    resource Noun

    available supply of materials, goods, or services. Resources can be natural or human.

    treaty Noun

    official agreement between groups of people.

    United Nations Noun

    international organization that works for peace, security and cooperation.