Expanded Boundaries and Hidden Treasures

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea grants all coastal countries sovereign rights to the areas extending 200 nautical miles beyond their coasts, known as the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). These watery properties contain abundant natural resources: large oil and gas reserves, valuable minerals, and teeming fisheries. So does the seabed beyond, where countries can make additional claims if they can prove that the continental shelf stretches past the underwater border of their EEZs and meets other criteria set by the convention. Robert Ballard’s Exploration Vessel Nautilus and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Okeanos Explorer are in the midst of a long-term program to discover what riches lie within America’s EEZ—and perhaps beyond.

Map Key

Australia is the third largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, producing more than 43 trillion cubic feet of the fuel, with more to come from the fields off the northwest coast.

Indian Ocean

China and India have increased naval activity in the region, contesting shipping lanes and potential mineral resources.

Part of the Philippine Sea lies outside any country’s exclusive economic zone, so many of the area’s fisheries are open to exploitation.

Hydrothermal vents off the coast of Papua New Guinea are rich in copper, zinc, gold, and silver. They also reveal much about geology, marine chemistry, and possibly the origins of life.

South China Sea

China, Vietnam, and the Philippines are at odds over claims to fisheries and rich oil reserves.

The Clarion-Clipperton Zone contains abundant rare earth elements. Some countries are funding prospecting in the area.


Russia, the U.S., Canada, Norway, and Denmark all hope to claim portions of this territory and its potentially vast oil and gas resources.

North Atlantic

Iceland and the U.K. have clashed in the past over fishing rights. Now the countries accuse each other of overfishing.

South Atlantic

Oil fields that could be worth billions of dollars surround the Falkland Islands. The U.K. holds sovereignty, but Argentina objects.

Offshore Frontier

Complicated maritime boundaries, competing territorial claims, and a wealth of natural resources have led to a rush to explore the world’s oceans.