For many small island countries such as Mauritius and Seychelles, access to natural resources has and continues to play a critical role in shaping their economic and social development. The demands of growing populations coupled with a desire by governments to reduce dependency on foreign natural resources, particularly oil, gas, and minerals, have compelled many countries throughout the world to renew efforts to explore for and develop their natural resources, including fisheries resources and offshore oil, gas and mineral reserves of the seabed.
Following a request for assistance from both the governments of Mauritius and Seychelles in 2008, the Commonwealth Secretariat helped both countries to claim and secure rights to additional seabed covering over 400,000 square kilometres in the Indian Ocean. The process involved the preparation of a joint continental shelf submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf under an internationally agreed process established by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The development of a continental shelf submission is a major task, involving a complex range of legal technical and scientific issues. In response, the Secretariat provided legal and technical assistance using in-house legal experts, supported by externally engaged technical and scientific experts. The Secretariat also assumed a critical ‘good offices’ role, coordinating the work of the joint working sessions.
As a result of this work, the governments of Mauritius and Seychelles secured joint rights to manage 400,000 square kilometres of additional seabed (continental shelf) beyond the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zones of the two member countries. The two countries have established the world’s first Joint Management Zone covering such an area, and a Joint Commission to coordinate and manage the exploration, conservation and development of the living and non-living resources of the seabed in the area.