Earth Law Center Officially Launches Ocean Rights Framework

Reader Contribution by Darlene May Lee and Earth Law Center
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Photo by Class for Creative Commons

Michelle Bender, Ocean Rights Manager, spoke at a panel and officially launched the Earth Law Framework for Marine Protected Areas at the ocean conference at EARTHx in Dallas TX this year.

What is a Marine Protected Area?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) as protective management of natural areas so as to keep them in their natural state. MPAs can be conserved for a number of reasons including economic resources, biodiversity conservation, and species protection. They are created by delineating zones with permitted and non-permitted uses within that zone.

If you have been fishing in central California, diving near a shipwreck in the Florida Keys, camping in Acadia, snorkeling in the Virgin Islands, or hiking along the Olympic Coast, you were probably one of thousands of visitors to an MPA in the United States. 

What does Earth Law mean?

Earth law offers an innovative legal solution to continue to evolve ocean protection. Rather than looking at the ocean as a limitless resource, the Earth Law Ocean Framework considers the ocean as a fellow subject — that is, an entity with a legal right to exist, thrive and evolve.

Viewing the ocean only through the lens of “how is this most useful to humans” ends up not being very good for humans either. With half the ocean’s population disappearing in just the last 45 years,  that doesn’t look good for anyone on the planet given the ocean supplies half of the oxygen on the planet.

What does the ocean rights framework call for?

The ocean rights framework serves as a template for about-to-be created or newly created Marine Protected Areas, and specifically calls for:

The legal recognition of marine protected areas;
The legal recognition of the rights and values associated with marine protected areas;
The appointment of guardians to represent marine protected areas’ interests;
The right for humans to speak on behalf of a marine protected area in legal matters;
The application of legal rights in the existing governance system.

This initiative supports several other river initiatives launched by Earth Law Center which seek rights for: the Southern Resident Orcas in the wider Salish Sea (Puget Sound), the Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary in Uruguay, the Patagonian Shelf in Argentina and new projects in Ecuador and Venezuela. 

Practical Applications

Earth Law Center is partnering with OCC to establish legal rights for Uruguay’s Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary. 

Organización para la Conservación de Cetáceos (OCC), a small non-government organization in Uruguay, focuses on marine conservation. In 2013, a delegation of primary and secondary students led by OCC met face-to-face with parliamentarians to designate Uruguay’s territorial sea as a sanctuary for Whales and Dolphins.

Next steps in the initiative include:

Submit a proposal to Parliament to designate legal rights for the Sanctuary through a legal decree
Draft the management plan for the Sanctuary informed by ELC’s model MPA framework and coordinated with the National System of Protected Areas
Plan participatory meetings in each community, including technicians in fisheries and marine management

You can get involved today

Earth Law Center serves to connect and catalyze local partnerships, consisting of communities, indigenous groups, and guardians, to create new laws, which uphold and defend nature’s rights against harm.

Learn more about the ocean framework here
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Volunteer on the project here
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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 TwitterFacebookand LinkedIn. Read all of Darlene’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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