The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) relates to the international agreement which defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world's oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

The Cook Islands is a contracting party to UNCLOS and, as a coastal state, enjoys certain rights to explore and exploit the mineral resources of the seabed. The nature and extent of the rights enjoyed in these zones differs and is determined based on the distance of the area of seabed from the coast of the Cook Islands.

Of particular relevance is the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This is where the bulk of nodules are located. The EEZ is the area of sea, seabed and subsoil from 12 to 200 nautical miles offshore. In the EEZ, the Cook Islands enjoys 'sovereign rights', conferred for the purposes of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing natural resources of the waters, seabed and subsoil.

UNCLOS not only confers rights to natural resources but also imposes certain obligations. These obligations are couched in a general duty owed to the international community to "protect and preserve the marine environment". This duty is meant to ensure that the measures a coastal state adopts to regulate and control activities likely to affect the marine environment are consistent with the purposes of UNCLOS.

Alignment of Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Regime with International Law
The draft National Seabed Minerals Policy places an emphasis on ensuring that the principles and measures adopted by Government should be reflective of international regulatory best practises and recent developments in the seabed minerals sector. For example the principle relating to environmental management calls for the application of "internationally accepted principles and standards of environmental protection including the precautionary principle". This reflects on a policy level the Cook Islands intention for the regime to be compatible and consistent with the provisions of UNCLOS.

Furthermore, the Seabed Minerals Act makes provisions for the protection of the marine environment and refers to the Environment Act 2003 and the Marine Pollution Act 1998.
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