Portugal - Exclusive Economic Zone - EEZ
Fishing has been important to the livelihood of the Portuguese for centuries. Some coastal communities are almost totally dependent on fishing or related activities (DGPA, 1998). The nation’s fishing grounds are delineated by an EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) of 1,700,000 km2 (18 times the mainland Portuguese territory), encompassing both continental Portugal (with a coastline of 942 km) and two large insular regions surrounding the Azores and Madeira.
By ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Portugal started a process that may lead to the extension of its continental shelf. The extension project is the last opportunity to undertake, in a peaceful manner, new maritime territories, under state´s sovereignty and jurisdiction. In a world of shortages of raw materials and other vital resources, the ability to extend the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles is of undeniable importance for the access to mineral, energy and biogenetic resources.
The continental shelf is an important maritime zone, one that holds many resources and vital habitats for marine life. The majority of the world’s continental shelf is unknown and unmapped. Even so, the responsible use and preservation of this unique area depends on the collection of data to better understand where legal rights on the continental shelf lie.
Under international law, as reflected in the Convention on the Law of the Sea, every coastal Country automatically has a continental shelf out to 200 nautical miles from its shore (or out to a maritime boundary with another coastal Country). In some cases, a coastal Country can have a continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles if it meets certain criteria. Typically, the portion of continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles is called the "extended continental shelf” or simply the ECS.
The Portuguese have plans to increase the area of the continental shelf under their jurisdiction, increasing the total area controlled by Portugal to 3.87 million square kilometers, thus becoming the 10th country in the world in terms of Economic Exclusive Zone. The Portuguese Government created, in April 2005, a multidisciplinary Task Group for the Extension of the Continental Shelf (EMEPC) to prepare Portugal's claim to the CLCS (Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf). The Task Group for the Extension of the Portuguese Continental Shelf was created by the Cabinet Resolution of the Council of Ministers nº 9/2005 and its mission is to: “prepare a proposal for the extension of the Portuguese Continental Shelf beyond 200 nautical miles,to be presented to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, and Follow the process of consideration of the portuguese submission by this commission”.
The process to determine the outer limits of a country’s ECS requires the collection and analysis of data that describe the depth, shape, and geophysical characteristics of the seabed and sub-sea floor. Since 2005, over 400 days of effective surveying have resulted in the largest sea floor mapping initiative in the world. The rules for defining the ECS are based in international law, specifically Article 76 of the Convention on the Law of the Sea. About 80 coastal nations likely have a continental shelf that extends beyond 200 nautical miles. A coastal Country can use one of two formulas in any combination to determine the edge of its ECS. The Convention also provides two constraint lines that those two formulas cannot go past. Here, too, a country can use any combination of those constraint lines to maximize its shelf. This legal definition of the continental shelf is not the same as what a geologist would call continental shelf.
The major challenges concerning the Portuguese submission are also the evaluation of the highly diversified nature of the Portuguese margins and its interplay with article 76 implementation, namely the magmatically starved West Iberia margin, the Madeira Plateau and Madeira Tore Rise as areas of intensive intraplate volcanism, the tectonically complex triple junction of the Azores where intensive magmatic activity has created a vast submarine volcanic plateau. The insufficiency of the CLCS's guidelines is also a matter of deep concern as they do not offer a clear, straightforward and adequate guidance on the interpretation and application of important art76 concepts, such as the juridical seafloor typologies.
Portugal delivered a dossier in 2009 asking for its extended continental shelf to be ratified by the UN in 2014, but has now found “new possibilities of extension”, Manuel Pinto de Abreu, the Portuguese secretary of state for sea affairs, said 07 March 2012.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|