United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

The basic principles of international ocean law are set forth in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This comprehensive treaty, which entered into force in 1994, describes the rights and responsibilities of nations to conduct and control activities in and affecting the oceans. Although the United States has not ratified the Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Executive Branch has submitted it to the U.S. Senate for advice and consent with a recommendation that it be ratified and that the United States considers most of its provisions to reflect binding customary international law (Van Dyke, 2008). The Convention sets out a number of duties that are relevant to the global marine debris problem (Box 3.1). These duties oblige nations to use their authority and

BOX 3.1

Marine Debris Pollution and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea that require nations to combat marine debris include the following:


Article 1: For the purposes of this Convention: …(4) “pollution of the marine environment” means the introduction by man, directly or indirectly, of substances or energy into the marine environment, including estuaries, which results or is likely to result in such deleterious effects as harm to living resources and marine life, hazards to human health, hindrance to marine activities, including fishing and other legitimate uses of the sea, impairment of quality for use of sea water and reduction of amenities.


Article 192: States have the obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment.


Article 194: (1) States shall take … all measures necessary to prevent, reduce, and control pollution of the marine environment from any source…. (5) The measures taken in accordance with this part shall include those necessary to protect and preserve rare or fragile ecosystems as well as the habitats of depleted, threatened or endangered species and other forms of marine life.


Article 197: States shall cooperate on a global basis, and as appropriate, on a regional basis, directly or through competent international organizations, in formulating and elaborating international rules, standards and recommended practices and procedures … for the protection and preservation of the marine environment, taking into account characteristic regional features.


Article 207: (1) States shall adopt laws and regulations to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment from land-based sources, including



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