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Zealandia is not a continent

Nature volume 543, page 179 (09 March 2017) | Download Citation

Now recognized in international law, Zealandia — the continental shelf and margin surrounding New Zealand — is vast and worthy of inquiry. However, we disagree with attempts to recharacterize it as the 'eighth continent' (see Nature; 2017).

Zealandia has been extensively studied since 1895 (see W. H. F. Smith and D. T. Sandwell Science 277, 1956–1962; 1997). Such studies underpinned New Zealand's successful application to the United Nations to extend the limits of the continental shelf and its economic exclusion zone (see

Continents are defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as continuous terrestrial geographical features (“as distinguished from islands, islets, or peninsulas”). Geologists do not define continents: instead, they characterize the types of crust and delineate their geological features. By this definition, Zealandia is not a continent. Indeed, it is 94% continental margin with an extended shelf.

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  1. University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

    • Elizabeth M. Dowding
    •  & Malte C. Ebach


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Correspondence to Elizabeth M. Dowding.

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