The concept of an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) was adopted through the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Under international law, within its defined EEZ, a coastal nation has:
The United States claimed a 200-nautical-mile EEZ in 1983 (Presidential Proclamation No. 5030 of March 10, 1983). This zone extends beyond and adjacent to the seaward boundary of the 12-nautical-mile (14-mile) territorial sea of the United States. This area includes Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and other U.S. possessions.
With more 3.4 million square nautical miles (4 million square miles) of ocean, the U.S. EEZ is larger than the land area of all 50 states combined and is one of the largest EEZs in the world. It contains a vast array of natural resources, such as seafood, critical minerals, medicines, and areas of significant ecological and conservation value. Despite the importance of these resources to the health and security of our nation, only about 40 percent of the U.S. EEZ has been mapped, and significantly less has been fully characterized, meaning that these resources remain poorly understood and undefined.
To understand the untapped potential of U.S. ocean and coastal areas, the federal government has developed several strategies and recommendations to advance mapping, exploration, and characterization of our nation’s EEZ. As the only federal program dedicated to exploring our deep ocean, the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research plays a key role in this work.