Geografie 2019, 124, 455-478

Continental shelf: scientific reality versus legal fiction

Dorota Harakaľová

University of Economics in Bratislava, Faculty of International Relations, Department of International Law, Bratislava, Slovakia

Received November 2018
Accepted July 2019

The article analyzes and compares the scientific and legal concept of the continental shelf: Is the legal definition of shelf identical to the scientific concept? The aim of the article is to point out differences in the legal definition of continental shelf, which was designed to provide the greatest benefits to coastal states. The legal continental shelf is important because of the acknowledging the rights of sovereign rights to the shelf resources of the coastal state. The coastal state has exclusive rights to exploit the living and non-living resources of the shelf and its subsoil, and other states may not interfere with these rights. The first legal definition of the shelf took into account the criteria of exploitability. The definition of shelf, as codified in UNCLOS, despite the strict criteria for extending the shelf linked to the seabed geology and geomorphology, is a legal fiction.


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