Rights of Nature In Action

Where else has a “Rights of Nature” framework been implemented? 

(Note: the laws and policies referenced below are those that provide precedent of Earth-centered laws specific to marine waters and marine mammals)

a. United States

  • The Marine Life Proclamation passed in Malibu in 2014 resolved that whales and dolphins have the right to free and safe passage and “encourages citizens of the world to do all within their power to protect them and preserve the oceans in which they were destined to spend their lives.”
  • Also in 2014, San Francisco passed the “Free and Safe Passage of Whales and Dolphins in San Francisco’s Coastal Waters” Resolution supporting the free and safe passage of cetaceans in their waters and to be free from captivity.
  • Over two dozen municipalities in the United States have passed local ordinances or resolutions recognizing the rights of nature, including Santa Monica; in 2014 passed the Sustainability Rights Ordinance that includes the right of the community to self governance and that the marine waters possessed the “fundamental and inalienable rights to exist and flourish.”
  • The ʔEsdilagh First Nation (one of the six that comprises the Tsilhqot’in Nation) enacted the Sturgeon River Law (also known as the Fraser River) that states the people, animals, fish, plants, the nen (“lands”), and the tu (“waters”) have rights. 

b. International 

  • Laws prohibiting cetaceans in captivity are growing internationally.
  • In 2010, a conference held on Cetacean Rights in Helsinki produced a Declaration on the Rights of Cetaceans for universal adoption. 
  • Ecuador, Bolivia and Mexico City now protect Rights of Nature in their constitutions or national law.
  • Court cases in Ecuador highlight how rights of nature improves enforcement and supports conservation efforts, especially in regards to the Galapagos.
  • Galapagos Marine Reserve includes the rights of nature as a guiding principle for management. Commercial fishing is prohibited and fishing is limited to sustainable artisanal fishing. In Ecuador regulations have been passed as a result of the constitutional amendment, including the National Plan for the Conservation of Marine Turtles, the Protection of hammerhead sharks from bycatch and prohibitions on certain types of fishing gear (For more on the Special Law of the Galapagos.)
  • Recent New Zealand treaty agreements declared a river, national park, and sacred mountain as legal entities with “all the rights of a legal person.”
  • Colombia declared both the Atrato River and Colombia Amazon as a “legal entity subject to basic rights” through court decisions.
  • The Belize Barrier Reef was recognized as a subject of rights. Adoption of an indefinite moratorium signed into law on December 29, 2017 to preserve the World Heritage site reef builds on earlier recognition of Nature as subject of rights.
  • A case in the Philippines successfully revoked a permit for oil exploration in the Tanon Strait (a marine protected area) and found that “there should be no questions of their [the petitioners] right to represent the resident marine mammals since the primary steward, the government, had failed in its duty to protect the environment pursuant to the public trust doctrine.”
  • The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Spatial Plan, or “Sea Change Plan” (the Plan)/ New Zealand: Though the Plan does not codify legal rights for the Park, there is an implicit recognition of Rights of Nature stating “Gulf communities need to adjust their relationships with the lands and waters around them. Rather than thinking of the environment and its bounty as an entitlement, considering it as a being in its own right will help us to rethink our reciprocal responsibilities and work toward a better balance.” Customary environmental law, Kaitiakitanga, guides management of the Park and it is defined as “an ethic and practice of protection and conservation of the natural environment and the resources [….]” The main objective of Kaitiakitanga is to maintain a “natural and appropriate balance” between the need of the people, the Mother Earth, and the Sea. The Plan goes further and extends the establishment of the role of guardianship to the community in general, calling upon guardianship to be “practiced by all.”
  • Over 20 countries have some form of rights of nature law or judicial decision: http://www.harmonywithnatureun.org/rightsOfNature/
  • Initiatives are growing internationally recognizing the rights of marine waters and species: www.earthlawcenter.org/oceanrights 

1 http://www.tsilhqotin.ca/Portals/0/PDFs/Notices/2020%2005%2028%20Elhdaqox%20Dechen%20Tsedilhtan%20%28Sturgeon%20River%20Law%29.pdf

2 Sea Change, supra at 31.

3 Sea Change, supra at 26.

4 Sea Change, supra at 161.