The oceans are the very foundation of human life...

Life itself arose from the oceans. The ocean is vast, covering 140 million square miles, some 72 per cent of the earth's surface. Climate and weather, even the quality of the air people breathe, depend in great measure on an interplay between the ocean and the atmosphere in ways still not fully understood. Not only has the oceans always been a prime source of nourishment for the life it helped generate, but from earliest recorded history it has served for trade and commerce, adventure and discovery. It has kept people apart and brought them together. Even now, when the continents have been mapped and their interiors made accessible by road, river and air, most of the world's people live no more than 200 miles from the sea and relate closely to it.

The ocean, with its enormity and mystery, has ever been part of human consciousness. As mystery gave way to mastery, whole bodies of custom, tradition and law arose defining the rights of the ships and mariners who plied the waters and of the States on the rim of the oceans.

Attempts have been made through the years to regulate the use of the oceans in a single convention that is acceptable to all nations. This effort finally culminated with the adoption of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which has gained nearly universal acceptance since its entry into force on 16 November 1994.

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provides, for the first time, a universal legal framework for the rational management of marine resources and their conservation for future generations. Rarely has such radical change been achieved peacefully, by consensus of the world community. It has thus been hailed as the most important international achievement since the approval of the United Nations Charter in 1945.

While many institutions, some created by the Convention and others part of the United Nations system are responsible for governing areas on specific aspects of the ocean under their jurisdiction, the Convention itself remains the central instrument for promoting stability and peaceful uses of the seas and oceans. It is not, however, a static instrument, but rather a dynamic and evolving body of law that must be vigorously safeguarded and its implementation aggressively advanced.

There is where the United Nations has and will continue to play an important role as the depository of the Convention and the globally recognized forum for monitoring and reporting on all aspects related to oceans and the law of the sea.

As part of this effort, the following brief description of the Convention, and its key provision, is provided as a service to the user in understanding the instrument and its role in international law.

Prepared by the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, Office of Legal Affairs, United Nations.

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