The Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs is responsible for advancing and promoting U.S. economic, security, and environmental interests by advancing international efforts to conserve and sustainably use the ocean and its resources. OPA supports efforts to conserve marine biodiversity, to monitor and address the impacts of ocean acidification and climate change on the ocean, to reduce land and sea-based sources of marine debris, and to coordinate international oil spill prevention and response. It also coordinates U.S. participation in international agreements and treaties involving the protection of the marine environment, such as those for the prevention of pollution from ships and from the dumping of wastes and other matter from ships.
U.S. Policy on Sea-level Rise and Maritime Zones
On September 29, 2022, the United States announced a policy on sea-level rise and maritime zones.
Law of the Sea
The Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs (OPA) is responsible for developing, coordinating, negotiating, and implementing U.S. foreign policy with respect to the law of the sea. The Law of the Sea Convention sets forth a comprehensive legal framework governing uses of the ocean. Adopted in 1982 and substantially modified by a 1994 Agreement relating to its deep seabed mining provisions, the Convention has been in force since 1994 and currently has more than 165 parties. The United States is not a party to the Convention.
OPA is responsible for overseeing the U.S. Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) Project, which is designed to establish the full extent of the continental shelf of the United States, consistent with international law. The ECS is that portion of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from shore. Knowledge of the exact extent of the U.S. ECS and an improved understanding of its resources will promote economic prosperity and enhance stewardship of our natural resources.
The Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs provides support for negotiation of maritime boundary agreements to which the United States is a party.
OPA examines coastal States’ maritime claims and/or boundaries and assess their consistency with international law.
Maritime Security and Navigation
The Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs (OPA) works with U.S. agencies and international and nongovernmental organizations to coordinate U.S. foreign policy on maritime security. Key among these groups is the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a specialized agency that seeks to foster international cooperation on technical matters affecting international shipping. U.S. maritime security policy facilities global commerce and preserves the freedom of the seas for legitimate navigation and other lawful activities. OPA coordinates maritime security efforts, among other things, on piracy, particularly off the coast of Somalia, in the Gulf of Guinea, and in the waters of Southeast Asia, maritime domain awareness, and the U.S. Freedom of Navigation (FON) Program.
The Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs is responsible for developing, coordinating, negotiating, and implementing U.S. foreign policy with respect to marine science and research. This includes oversight of the State Department’s marine scientific research clearance program, which grants consent for foreign scientists to conduct research in U.S. waters and obtains consent from foreign governments for U.S. scientists to conduct research in foreign waters.
OPA also facilitates international scientific exchange, promotes global marine science and research, and coordinates U.S. participation in international organizations, regional organizations, and multilateral agreements involving marine science and research.
You can find further guidance on Marine Scientific Research Authorizations here.
The Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs develops and implements United States foreign policy as it relates to the Arctic region. It also leads United States participation in the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum of the eight Arctic States (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, United States) with the close advice of the Arctic indigenous peoples represented through six organizations known as “Permanent Participants.”
United States Arctic policy focuses on six overarching policy objectives: 1) meeting national security needs; 2) protecting the Arctic environment and conserving its biological resources; 3) promoting environmentally sustainable natural resource management and economic development; 4) strengthening institutions for cooperation among the eight Arctic nations; 5) involving Arctic indigenous people in decisions that affect them; and 6) enhancing scientific monitoring and research on local, regional, and global environmental issues.
The Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs develops and coordinates U.S. policy affecting the Antarctic region, working to ensure that the Antarctic continues to be reserved for peace and science and to conserve marine life in the Southern Ocean. OPA leads the U.S. delegation to the annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, and works closely throughout the year with the National Science Foundation, which runs the U.S. Antarctic Program, other USG agencies, and key industry and environmental stakeholders. The United States has the greatest number of scientists and tourists visiting Antarctica each year. OPA pays particular attention to geopolitical issues. Climate change research that can only occur in Antarctica, increasing tourism to the continent, and expanding maritime protected areas are significant policy issues that we perennially address. OPA leads the U.S. delegation to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which manages fisheries and marine conservation in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. It also periodically leads inspections of Antarctic facilities under the Antarctic Treaty.