United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

This page provides information on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982 (UNCLOS) which New Zealand ratified on 19 July 1996.


New Zealand ratified UNCLOS in July 1996 after the passage of specific enabling legislation. UNCLOS codifies customary international law about the sea, and sets out states’ various obligations and rights in respect of the sea. It declares that the sea-bed, ocean floor and subsoil are beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, but that their exploitation shall be carried out for the benefit of mankind as a whole. The Convention outlines states’ obligations and responsibilities for different areas:

  • territorial sea and the contiguous zone
  • straits used for international navigation
  • archipelagic states
  • the exclusive economic zone
  • the continental shelf
  • the high seas
  • islands
  • enclosed or semi-enclosed seas
  • rights of land-locked states
  • the area (the seabed, ocean floor and subsoil beyond the limits of national jurisdiction) etc.

A significant aspect of UNCLOS is its incorporation of the principle of 'common heritage of mankind'. 

Submissions to UNCLOS  

New Zealand is contributing to the International Seabed Authority's work to develop an international regulatory framework for the exploitation of seabed minerals in the high seas. The International Seabed Authority was established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

See our submissions: New Zealand’s experiences with adaptive management for seabed mining projects

Find out more