The continental shelf is an undersea extension of a continent which can stretch for many miles out to sea in some cases. Many nations have asserted mineral and land rights to their associated continental shelves, since this region of the ocean is rich in natural resources such as marine life. Minerals on the continental shelf are also significantly easier to extract than minerals on the floor of the ocean, since the continental shelf is relatively shallow by comparison. By convention, many countries defend their continental shelves as territorial waters, since they are concerned about the exploitation of their natural resources.
There are actually several parts to the continental shelf. The first part is the shelf itself, which starts below the shoreline of a continent. The shelf slopes gently as it stretches towards the deeper part of the ocean, until it reaches a certain point and drops off sharply, causing the waters above to rapidly become much deeper. This drop is called the co