The Compilation and Analysis of Bathymetric Relevant Data, Prior the Determination of the Juridical Continental Shelf of Ecuador

Nilton Sánchez
Directed Research Project


Friday, Dec. 16, 2016, 11:00am
Chase 130

The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands located in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, at approximately 1,000 km (540 nautical miles) west of continental Ecuador. This archipelago and the Carnegie Ridge, an aseismic ridge with W-E motion upon the Nazca Plate, represent the footprint of the uninterrupted interaction between the Galapagos Hotspot and the Cocos-Nazca Spreading Center during the last 23 Ma. The islands are known for their vast number of endemic species which were studied first by Charles Darwin in the 1800s. Since the Republic of Ecuador annexed the Galapagos Islands in 1832, it was not until the late 1950s that the government took control to the native flora and fauna.

The maritime areas of the continental and insular Ecuador have their first legal basis on Santiago Declaration of 1952, in which [with Peru and Chile] proclaimed [in the exercise of their sovereign will] a Territorial Sea of 200 nautical miles. Later, as complement in the delimitation of marine and submarine areas, the Ecuadorian government established through an Executive Decree the concept of straight baselines in 1971. Since the UNESCO declares the Galapagos Islands as a "World Heritage Site” in 1979 and a "Biosphere Reserve" in 1985, these baselines were used to establish more environmental and maritime areas in order to preserve the living and non-living resources within 200 nautical miles.

The protection of biodiversity and natural resources in the seafloor and subsoil of Ecuadorian Territorial Seas became the milestone for the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 2012. This Constitution of the Oceans also defines basic conditions of prospecting exploration and exploitation of the seafloor resources beyond the limits of jurisdiction of a State. The article 76 of UNCLOS and the Scientific and Technical Guidelines of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf detail the right of coastal States to determine the outer limits of the continental shelf based on some juridical criteria, such as the Test of Appurtenance and the Evidence of the Contrary, which determine if the States are legally entitled to delineate their outer limits throughout the natural prolongation of its land territory. 

The Republic of Ecuador has a potential area where the extension of the continental shelf is possible named the Carnegie Saddle, which is located between the EEZ of continental Ecuador and Galapagos Archipelago. Based on the Technical Guidelines of the CLCS, the Ecuadorian trench represents a major geomorphological break that could disallow the categorization of the ridges as natural prolongation. For this reason, the Ecuadorian NAVY was assigned to conduct the necessary research to demonstrate that: 1) the Carnegie Ridge is the natural prolongation of the Galapagos Archipelago, 2) Both Galapagos Archipelago and Carnegie Ridge shares a common origin and evolution, and 3) the seafloor morphology of Carnegie Ridge differs from the adjacent ocean basins.

This work examined some important research that determined the geodynamic evolution, tectonic characteristics, physical properties, morphology, geochemical and sediment composition of the Galapagos Volcanic Province. However, they agree that the areas between the Carnegie Saddle and surrounding ridges are poorly covered by the data accepted by the UNCLOS. Consequently, there is the priority to compile and analyze the available bathymetric data prior the Ecuadorian submission to UNCLOS.


Lieutenant Nilton Sánchez Espinoza is from the Ecuadorian NAVY. He graduated from the Ecuadorian Naval Academy in 2002. After serving on several Ecuadorian warships, he became a Hydrographer class "B" in the Oceanographic Institute in 2009. He was the commander of several hydrographic vessels between 2006 and 2012 and served as the Chief of the Marine Research Station in the Galapagos Islands before he attended the GEBCO Training course in 2013. In 2014, Nilton obtained a Category “A” in Hydrography and a Postgraduate Certificate in Ocean Bathymetry. In 2015, he was both the head of some hydrographic surveys along Carnegie Ridge for UNCLOS purposes, and a member of the JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE to upgrade the geographic coordinates of border milestones in the Ecuadorian-Peruvian border.

Nowadays, with his advisor Andy Armstrong, he is examining the possibility of extending the Ecuadorian Continental Shelf by processing the available bathymetric, geomorphological, and geophysical data.