Legal Rights for Uruguay’s Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary: Progress towards the first marine protected area to apply the rights of nature



Contacts: Michelle Bender (;

    Rodrigo Garcia Pingaro (

Punta Del Este (October 31, 2018)— On Sunday October 28th, Organization for the Conservation of Cetaceans (OCC-Uruguay) celebrated the 5th anniversary of the creation of Uruguay’s Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary. Law No. 19.128 of 2013 prohibits all harm and activities that may harm whales and dolphins within Uruguay’s exclusive economic zone. However, the Sanctuary and 102 species within are threatened, vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered and experience threats from unsustainable fishing practices, pollution, increased shipping traffic, and perhaps the least acknowledged, negative effects from seismic testing also known as “ocean noise”.

Earth Law Center partners with OCC-Uruguay to protect the Sanctuary using a rights of nature legal framework. On Sunday, OCC-Uruguay’s anniversary event included public introduction of the campaign and the proposal to declare Legal Rights for the Sanctuary. Two deputies and the local mayor of Punta del Este were present and support the initiative.

This framework has been successfully applied in New Zealand ( the Whanganui River, Te Urewera National Park and Mount Taranaki), in India (Narmada River) and in Colombia (Colombian Amazon, Pisba Highlands and Atrato River).

“Environmental laws have mostly failed. We need a new approach to protect nature, that places human beings as a part of nature, not owners of it.  It is time to let the Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary’s voice be heard, and protect the biodiversity and beauty within,” said Rodrigo García co-founder and director of the OCC. 

“Legal Rights in practice means new and higher standards for decision making to guide implementation of the Sanctuary Law. Although Law 19.128 was an important step in the protection of the ocean and cetaceans, it does not actually give the whales and dolphins a right to not be subjected to harmful activities, or create the management plan to ensure compliance. Real protection of the Sanctuary (not only cetaceans but their habitat), requires the right to be heard and to protect itself.”

Mission Blue and the Sylvia Earle Alliance recently declared the Sanctuary a ‘Hope Spot’ in recognition  of its value as a safe haven for cetaceans, and importance to biodiversity and ocean health internationally.

You can support our campaign to gain Legal Rights for the Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary by signing onto our petition here.

 Earth Law Center ( works to transform the law to recognize and protect nature’s inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. This includes advancing the inherent rights of rivers through initiatives with local partners to secure rights recognition.

Organization for the Conservation of Cetaceans ( focuses on marine conservation. OCC-Uruguay develops the Responsible and Sustainable Tourism program that includes interpretive platforms (sighting towers) and qualified tourism operators through a certification system, as well as carries out various campaigns and actions of Advocacy in Public Policies, including regulation of on-sighting tourism.