Uruguay wasn’t a country I knew much about before someone there reached out to Earth Law Center about whales and dolphins. This South American nation of Spanish and Portuguese speakers is a good friend to cetaceans of the southern Atlantic. In 2013 Uruguay passed a law declaring that its territorial and economic sea waters were a sanctuary for whales and dolphins.
I don’t know about you, but I remember hearing calls to “Save the Whales” when I was a child. We haven’t done a good job since then. Many cetacean species are in trouble because of human activity. The IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species™ classifies three as Critically Endangered, seven as Endangered, six as Vulnerable, and five as Near Threatened.
The Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary in Uruguay
Rodrigo Garcia from Uruguay didn’t just get upset about the continuing decline of whale and dolphin populations, he decided to do something about it. In 2000 he established the Organización para la Conservación de Cetaceos (OCC) to educate, raise awareness and protect whales and dolphins. In 2013, he was the one who persuaded the legislature to name the country’s waters as a safe haven for whales and dolphins.
Why are cetaceans so important?
• Whales and dolphins are part of the sea’s food chain. When they are absent it knocks the marine ecosystem out of balance and affects other sea creatures.
• Whales and dolphins are vital to our understanding of non-human minds. Scientific studies of cetacean species have led to discoveries about communication skills, emotion, cognition and self-awareness.
• Whale poop helps offset carbon in the atmosphere because it contains nutrients that feed phytoplankton. Sperm whale poop alone locks up as many as 400,000 tons of carbon every year and that’s just one species of whale!
• Whale-watching tourism has brought in billions of dollars, helping to stimulate economic growth in communities, enabling them to transition to more eco-friendly livelihoods.
• Last but not least, supporters of Earth Law know that whales and dolphins matter because they are alive. Earth Law recognizes the inherent rights of all non-human species.
What does legal rights for the Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary mean exactly?
The Earth Law Center was approached by OCC to help secure legal rights for the Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary in Uruguay. What does this mean for the area?
• It will make whale and dolphin protection a legal responsibility. This will notably benefit the Franciscana dolphin (an IUCN Red List Species) and the Southern Right Whale.
• It will make it necessary to review activities such as port construction, fishing and vessel traffic for their impact on the sustainability of the Sanctuary.
• It will create a sustainable relationship between humans, the ecosystem and the species within.
What will the Uruguay Initiative accomplish?
At Earth Law Center, we proudly partner with OCC to add our legal expertise to the management plan so that it includes rights for whales, dolphins, and the ecosystem of this important area.
With this campaign, together with OCC, we intend to:
• Establish legal rights for the Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary by creating a legally binding management plan.
• Set up a community-based management plan for the Sanctuary using a legal framework that takes the whole ecosystem and the rights of its residents into account.
• Strengthen efforts to stop illegal, unreported (IUU) and unregulated fishing fleets.
• Strengthen efforts to stop fishing fleets accidentally catching a wide range of endangered sea creatures in their nets. (This is accidental catch is called bycatch.)
• Cultivate young conservationists and community leadership throughout the region as “Sanctuary Guardians.”
OCC’s event on November 20 for the Healthy Oceans Campaign will also kick off the Legal Rights Campaign with Michelle Bender, Ocean Rights Manager at Earth Law Center featuring as a keynote speaker.
What can you do to help secure rights for the ocean?
Darlene May Lee is Executive Director of Earth Law Center, which works to transform the law to recognize and protect nature’s inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. She works to build a force of advocates for nature’s rights at the local, state, national, and international levels. Connect with Earth Law Center on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Read all of Darlene’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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