About 151,000 km², or the equivalent of a quarter of the Hexagon. Here is in essence the additional piece of maritime sovereignty officially enjoyed by France since Wednesday. As stipulated in two decrees published in the Official Journal, the State has new underwater lands, and more precisely new continental shelves. Some of them are located off the island of Reunion (58,000 km²), the other near the islands of Saint-Paul and New Amsterdam (92,000 km²).
This acquisition reinforces France’s predominant position on the maritime spectrum. But what are we going to do in these new spaces? Explanations.
What does an extension of the continental shelf correspond to?
It is a legal term which dates back to the United Nations Convention of Montego Bay in 1982. For a country, it is a question of being able to dispose of marine soils and subsoils located beyond the waters conventionally reserved for States (territorial waters then exclusive economic zone). In other words, what is after the famous 200 mile mark (370.4 km) and up to 350 miles (563.3 km).
Be careful, the country becomes sovereign over the land layer, but not over what happens above. For example, France does not hold fishing rights over these areas, except for resources forming part of the sediments (crustaceans, flatfish, sea algae, etc.).
What do we plan to do and find there?
Lots of things even if it is very expensive to go underwater. And that just for exploration missions. “We need to have very detailed knowledge of the soil, which is not at all the case for the moment. The French oceanographic fleet will be mobilized ”, indicates Walter Roest, researcher from Ifremer who participates in the French extension program (Extraplac) with the government. “It takes years to properly map, analyze and understand marine ecosystems,” says Michel Morvan, president of the Breton committee of the French Institute of the Sea. It’s paradoxical, but we may know the Moon better than the seabed. “.
These two specialists estimate that the next fifteen or twenty years will be dedicated to this gigantic task. And after that ? The question of the exploitation of natural resources will arise. Hydrocarbons, minerals, metals, biological and living resources… There are many opportunities. “In Reunion, due to volcanic activity, what are called crusts on the rock form. We could therefore find layers of interesting minerals, ”says Walter Roest. Cobalt, in particular. “Off the islands of Saint-Paul and Amsterdam, it’s different,” he continues. We are located near an oceanic ridge, which suggests that the ground may contain hydrothermal sulphides ”. Basically copper, zinc, silver or gold.
Michel Morvan does not necessarily rely on the discovery of minerals. He thinks more “of biological substances which would be useful for us to produce medicines and food”. In 2013, the Economic, Social and Environmental Council insisted in particular on their potential in the treatment of cancer and dermatological problems, or in the cosmetics and bio-catering sectors.
What environmental protection?
The public authorities assure that this is their priority. And that their exploration work must precisely serve to predict the impact on biodiversity in the event of “reasoned” exploitation. For example, the danger would be that a borehole releases particles suspended in the water and heavy metals disperse into the ocean.
The United Nations, which oversee the acquisitions of continental shelves, is watching out, according to our experts. The UN has also proclaimed that it wants to the decade 2020 that of “oceanographic sciences for sustainable development”. “The ocean is a common good of humanity”, affirmed for his part Emmanuel Macron in December 2019. The Head of State then promised to “ensure that France is at the forefront in international bodies ad hoc for the defense and protection of the oceans ”.
What is France’s place on the maritime map?
At present, France has the second largest maritime space in the world behind the United States and ahead of Australia. A major geostrategic tool but often unknown to the general public.
Since Wednesday, the continental shelf of France beyond 200 nautical miles has been estimated at approximately 730,000 km², which is added to the 10.2 million km² of water under sovereignty (internal waters and territorial sea) or under jurisdiction. (exclusive economic zone, ZEE) French.
The French state aims to acquire another 500,000 km² of submarine land layer. Two extension requests are for example being studied on the side of Wallis and Futuna and French Polynesia. Conversely, two others are at a standstill due to disagreement with its overseas neighbors. France has been fighting since 2014 with Canada over submarine soils – which are said to be very rich in gas and oil – off the coast of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon while Vanuatu rises against hexagonal lusts to the south-east from New Caledonia.
The challenge for each party is then to prove the natural extension of its earth layer. A scientific mission which often requires several years.
Original article by : www.leparisien.fr