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A land area surrounded by water and remaining above sea level during high tide.

Land areas exposed only during low tide are called low-tide elevations or drying rocks, reefs, or shoals. The existence of islands has generated numerous disputes, centering primarily on the size of the territorial sea surrounding an island and the determination of what state has sovereignty over a particular island. The size of the territorial sea has become an important question affecting fishing rights and the right of unrestricted passage for foreign vessels. Although the territorial sea of an island is usually determined by reference to its coastal baseline, some adjustments have been recognized in the cases of archipelagoes and islands located close to the mainland.

Determination of what state has title to an island has traditionally depended upon an open and continuous assertion of sovereignty over the island, which is usually, but not always, accompanied by physical presence of some representative of the state.


Territorial Waters.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

ISLAND. A piece of land surrounded by water.
     2. Islands are in the sea or in rivers. Those in the sea are either in the open sea, or within the boundary of some country.
     3. When new islands arise in the open sea, they belong to the first occupant: but when they are newly formed so near the shore as to be within the boundary of some state, they belong to that state.
     4. Islands which arise in rivets when in the middle of the stream, belong in equal parts to the riparian proprietors when they arise. mostly on one side, they will belong to the riparian owners up to the middle of the stream. Bract. lib. 2, c. 2; Fleta, lib. 3, c. 2, s. 6; 2 Bl. 261; 1 Swift's Dig. 111; Schult. Aq. R. 117; Woolr. on Waters: 38; 4 Pick. R. 268; Dougl. R. 441; 10 Wend. 260; 14 S. & R. 1. For the law of Louisiana, see Civil Code, art. 505, 507.
     5. The doctrine of the common law on this subject, founded on reason, seems to have been borrowed from the civil law. Vide Inst. 2, 1, 22; Dig. 41, 1, 7; Code, 7; 41, 1.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
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