The Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs (OPA) within the Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) formulates and implements U.S. policy related to the conduct of marine scientific research in the territorial sea (up to 12 nautical miles from shore), in the exclusive economic zone (from 12 to 200 nautical miles from shore), and on the continental shelf (from 12 to, in some cases, beyond 200 nautical miles from shore).
In accordance with the Law of the Sea Convention, coastal States have the right to regulate and authorize marine scientific research in these maritime areas and, in all instances, consent of the coastal State is required. The Law of the Sea Convention further provides that “appropriate official channels” be used to obtain consent for marine scientific research. OPA serves as the appropriate official channel for U.S. (publicly- or privately-funded) researchers seeking foreign coastal State consent as well as for foreign researchers seeking U.S. consent. On an annual basis, OPA manages approximately 400 applications for foreign coastal State consent and 40 applications for U.S. consent. OPA also maintains an archive of application and consent records that dates back to 1990.
While the Law of the Sea Convention does not define marine scientific research (MSR), the term generally refers to those activities undertaken in the ocean to expand knowledge of the marine environment and its processes. The United States has identified some marine data collection activities that are not marine scientific research. These include prospecting for and exploration of natural resources; hydrographic surveys (for enhancing the safety of navigation); military activities including military surveys; activities related to the laying and operation of submarine cables; environmental monitoring and assessment of marine pollution pursuant to section 4 of Part XII of the Convention; the collection of marine meteorological data and other routine ocean observations – such as those used for monitoring and forecasting of ocean state, natural hazard warnings and weather forecasts, and climate prediction – including through the voluntary ocean observation programs of the Joint Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission-World Meteorological Organization Technical Commission on Oceanography and Marine Meteorology ( ), the , and the program; and activities directed at objects of an archeological and historical nature found at sea.
U.S. policies regarding marine scientific research within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the territorial sea of the United States were established with Presidential Proclamations and , and the on U.S. Oceans Policy of March 10, 1983, and were revised by on September 9, 2020. The advance consent of the United States is required for MSR conducted within the U.S. territorial sea, within the U.S. EEZ, and on the U.S. continental shelf.
All applications for consent must be submitted to the United States via email to MarineScience@state.gov. Please see additional instructions here. Application and reporting forms recommended by the United Nations Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea publication provide the basis of U.S. MSR application requirements.