Why is it vital to protect the seas and oceans? It needs to be remembered that ‘life’ originated therein. It is in the seas that the first bacteria and viruses were born it also needs to be remembered that the part of the seas and oceans, the marine organisms, their behaviour and peculiarities still remain a mystery.
Temperatures of the vast sea surfaces originate and influence monsoons, cyclones and weather patterns such as El Nino. The fact that 60 per cent of the global population occupies coastal areas adds to the vulnerability and fragility of seas.
Sri Lanka’s territorial sea extends seaward to a distance of 12 nautical miles from the mean low water line and covers an extent of 21,500 sq km. Here the country has sovereignty over all living and non-living resources lying in the water column, seabed and subsoil as well as air space.
The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 517,000 sq km surrounds the island and includes the territorial sea. It extends up to the Maritime Boundary between Sri Lanka and India in the Gulf of Mannar, Palk Strait and Palk Bay, and to a distance of 200 nautical miles at other points. Throughout the EEZ the country has sovereign rights to all living and non- living resources lying in the water column, seabed and the subsoil. It also exercises exclusive rights and jurisdiction to authorize, regulate and control marine scientific research, and other rights recognized by International law.
As result of deliverables submitted to the United Nations, by the government, Sri Lanka is to gain an additional seabed area of 1 .4 million sq km through the claim submitted under the Law of the Sea. This is 20 times larger than our territorial extent.
Therefore Sri Lanka will have opportunities to explore and utilize living and non-living marine resources in nearer future.
In 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Rio + 10) governments committed to time-bound goals to end unsustainable fishing practices, restore depleted fish stocks, establish a regular global assessment of the marine environment, and create a representative network of marine protected areas. This last goal, to be achieved by 2012, is particularly important as now we are exactly one month before to start Rio + 20 World Summit on Sustainable Development, coincides with the deadline agreed by the world leaders to establish marine protected areas , including representative networks.
Ministry of Environment