This page outlines New Zealand’s rights and obligations by marine zone under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea agreement and domestic legislation.
Jurisdictional boundaries and areas defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and under domestic legislation
|Zone/boundary||Location||Area||Rights/obligations under UNCLOS and domestic law|
|Land||Landward and above the line of mean high water springs (MHWS).||New Zealand has full ‘sovereignty’ over its land (which is beyond the scope of UNCLOS).|
|Foreshore||Seaward of MHWS to mean low water springs (MLWS) - generally the line of low water of the coast (i.e. the normally wet bits).||New Zealand has full ‘sovereignty’ over its foreshore (which again, is beyond the scope of UNCLOS). This is a territory defined under the Resource Management Act 1991.|
|Coastal marine area||The foreshore, seabed and coastal water, and the air space above the water extending from MHWS (with a few exceptions) to the limits of the territorial sea 12 nautical miles (NM).||This is a territory defined under the Resource Management Act. New Zealand has full ‘sovereignty’ within the coastal marine area that extends between MHWS and MLWS (as this is beyond the scope of UNCLOS). Seaward of MLWS to the 12NM limit, New Zealand’s sovereignty is subject to rights and duties established by UNCLOS and to other rules of international law. Other states have rights such as ‘innocent passage’ of their vessels.|
|Baselines||Normally the line of MLWS, but with exceptions for rivers, bays, islands, fiords, harbour works etc.|
|Internal waters||Waters on the landward side of the baseline of the territorial sea.||This area is part of New Zealand’s ‘sovereign territory’, which means that New Zealand has full ‘sovereignty’ over its internal waters.|
|Territorial sea||Seaward of the baseline out to 12NM.||New Zealand has full ‘sovereignty’ over its territorial sea, subject to the rights and duties established in the Convention and to other rules of international law. Other states have rights such as ‘innocent passage’ of their vessels.|
|Contiguous zone||Between the outer limits of the territorial sea to 24 NM (12NM to 24 NM).||In addition to ‘sovereign rights’ conferred over this area as part of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), New Zealand may exercise such control as is necessary to prevent and punish infringements in its territory or territorial sea of its customs, immigration, tax and sanitary laws.|
|Exclusive Economic Zone||Seaward of the outer limits of the territorial sea, including the contiguous zone, to an outer limit of 200NM from the baselines (ie. breadth of the EEZ is normally 188NM).||New Zealand’s EEZ is one of the largest in the world, with an area of 405 million hectares. This amounts to more than 15 times the area of our land mass.|| |
New Zealand has ‘sovereign rights’– a more limited jurisdiction than sovereignty – for the purposes of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing natural resources of the waters, seabed and subsoil.
New Zealand also has ‘jurisdiction’ with regard to the establishment of artificial islands, installations and structures; marine scientific research; and the protection and preservation of the marine environment. New Zealand must also have due regard for the rights of other states. Other states have certain freedoms including navigation, overflight, laying cables in the EEZ.
|Continental shelf||The seabed and subsoil of submarine areas beyond the territorial sea (12NM) to the outer edge of the continental margin or to 200NM from the baselines (whichever is greatest).||New Zealand’s continental shelf, the area that extends beyond New Zealand’s EEZ to the limits of our continental shelf, includes approximately 1.7 million square kilometers of seabed outside the existing EEZ. This area alone equates to about six times the area of our land mass.|| |
‘Sovereign rights’ (as for the EEZ) for the purpose of exploring and exploiting the natural resources of the seabed and subsoils (including immobile organisms which live on or under the seabed/subsoil).
In areas where the continental shelf extends beyond 200NM from the baselines, the water itself above the continental shelf is not within New Zealand’s jurisdiction and is part of the high seas.
|High Seas||Water column beyond the outer limits of coastal states’ EEZs.||Open to all states, subject to due regard for the interests of other states. All states have ‘freedom of the high seas’ which includes freedom of navigation, overflight, laying cables and pipelines, constructing artificial installations, fishing and scientific research.|
|The Area||Seabed and subsoil beyond the limits of national jurisdiction (i.e. seaward of the outer limit of the continental shelves.||Vested in humankind as a whole and administered by the International Seabed Authority. No state can claim or exercise sovereignty or sovereign rights over the Area.|
Find out more
- United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [United Nations website]