Law of the Sea and Maritime Jurisdiction Project

Last updated:8 April 2016

The Law of the Sea is a body of international rules and principles developed to regulate ocean space, as reflected in the 1982 United National Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Australia became party to UNCLOS in 1994 and like all of the countries bound by UNCLOS, must follow rules about marine boundaries, access to the various marine zones and managing the resources and activities within those boundaries.

Although the Australian continent is very large, covering about 7.7 million square kilometres, Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is the world's third largest, with a total area of 11.38 million square kilometres (excluding the Antarctic Territory). The territories of Australia include the Australian Antarctic Territory, Christmas Island, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Heard and McDonald Islands, Norfolk Island, the Coral Sea Islands and Ashmore and Cartier Islands. In total there are some 12 000 islands. While many of these islands are relatively small, UNCLOS allows Austalia jurisdiction over tracts of the ocean and seafloor that surround them.

Maritime Boundaries Advice

As an island continent, Australia has sovereign rights over a vast area of ocean, along with the fishery, mineral and petroleum resources found in that area - resources worth billions of dollars each year.

The management and protection of the waters that yield these resources is a complex task. Geoscience Australia, and specifically the Law of the Sea and Maritime Boundary Advice Project, has a major role in the delineation of Australia's maritime boundaries. The delineation of these boundaries has strategic, economic and environmental implications.

Geoscience Australia's Maritime Boundaries Advice Unit provides technical advice to government agencies on the determination of maritime jurisdictional boundaries. This advice sometimes includes the production of simple maps.