United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and Island Regulations
The UNCLOS is a comprehensive maritime legal system adopted in December 1982 and which came into force in November 1994. This convention established the 12 nautical mile territorial waters as well as the 200 nautical mile EEZ systems to strengthen the rights of the coastal states. The International Law of the Sea Tribunal (ITLOS) was also established for peaceful resolutions of maritime disputes. According to the “Island” provisions as set forth by the UNCLOS, Dokdo qualifies as an island under international law.
- UNCLOS Article 121
1. An island is a naturally formed area of land, surrounded by water, which is above water at high tide.
2. Except as provided for in paragraph 3, the territorial waters, the contiguous zone, the exclusive economic zone, and the continental shelf of an island are determined in accordance with the provisions of this Convention applicable to other land territory.
3. Rocks that cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.
1. Dokdo is located off the east coast of Korea and is located 87.4 kilometers southeast of Ulleungdo and 157.5 kilometers northwest of the Oki Islands. On a clear day, Dokdo can be seen with the naked eye from Ulleungdo. However, Dokdo is not visible from the Oki Islands. During the territorial disputes between Korea and Japan in the seventeenth century, Japan had investigated the distances from the two islands to Korea and Japan and recognized Korea’s sovereignty over Dokdo.
2. As a volcanic island, Dokdo is fundamentally different in its geological makeup than other islands. Dokdo was originally formed by underwater volcanic eruptions, and its current shape was formed by wind and water erosion. Its unique characteristics mean that the volcanic rocks are easily worn or crumbled.
3. Dokdo’s average temperatures are never below freezing even during the coldest month of January and never above 24 Celsius even during the warmest month of August. However, the islet receives the least amount of sunshine in Korea and much precipitation in the summer.
4. Dokdo is categorized as an island under international law. As such, its territorial waters and EEZ are 12 nautical miles and 200 nautical miles from the coast, respectively. Territorial disputes between South Korea and Japan arose as a result of each country proclaiming its respective EEZs, and a fisheries agreement was signed between the two countries. This agreement applies to the intermediate zone, and Dokdo’s territorial waters are excluded from this zone.
Glossary of Terms
Natural Monument No. 336 Dokdo Natural Protected Area, volcanic terrain, exclusive economic zone, intermediate zone, East Sea