Earth Defenders Launch first Ocean Rights Framework in the World on Earth Day

Photo credit: Albert S. at

Photo credit: Albert S. at


Contacts: Michelle Bender (, 509 218 9338) 

Barbara Lausche (, 941 371 1691)

Brett Garling (, 707 492 6866)

New York, NY (April 24, 2018)—On Earth Day April 22, Earth Law Center unveiled the first Ocean Rights Framework in the world, at the ocean conference at EarthX (the largest Earth Day gathering in the world). The framework is currently endorsed by Mission Blue.

EARTHxOcean Conference: No Blue, No Green! sponsored by Mission Blue and EARTHx contained a breakout session on “Ocean Rights: The Next Evolution in Ocean Protection” and that focused on the need to transform our values and create solutions that keep pace with the threats. The panel was inspired by Dr. Sylvia Earle- a topic close to her heart. “It should be obvious that we are a part of nature, not apart from nature, and that what we do to the living world we do to ourselves.”

The ocean produces half of the world’s oxygen, absorbs and sequesters one third of the carbon dioxide human activities emit and provides protection from extreme weather events. Twenty percent of the human population depends on the ocean for their primary source of protein, and over seven percent rely on the ocean for jobs and income. [1]

Ocean Rights joins a growing list of wins in the global rights of nature movement. In addition to Ecuador and Bolivia recognizing rights of nature in their national constitutions, the movement gained legal rights for rivers, mountains and forests worldwide. The most recent decision came from Colombia’s Supreme Court, recognized the Colombian Amazon as an “entity subject of rights,” meaning that the “State has a duty to protect, conserve, maintain, and restore the forest.” [2]

After eight months of research, writing, and gathering global expert input; ELC has now completed the Earth Law Framework for Marine Protected Areas, that serves as a guideline for how we can evolve the solution and use of marine protected areas [3] to legally implement the rights of the ocean. 

Having helped develop previous international frameworks for protected areas, Barbara J, Lausche, JD, answered “I applaud the launch of the Earth Law Framework for MPAs and am hopeful that we will all come together to work toward its implementation as a framework and living document on oceans’ rights.”

The most essential part- and difference- between the Earth Law structure for governance and those currently in use, is the requirement that law recognizes the ocean as entity subject of rights. These rights include the rights to life and biodiversity, to be free of pollution and contamination, the right to maintain the functionality of the water cycle, and the right to full and prompt restoration from the impacts of human activity.

“This is a game changer” says Michelle Bender, creator of the framework, “recognizing the ocean is our life-giving partner, rather than a resource and property, will level the playing field. It will give the ocean the protection it needs for its own benefit, and ours.”

This initiative supports several other ocean initiatives launched by Earth Law Center which seek rights for: The Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary in Uruguay and the Puget Sound in Washington State (US).

About Earth Law Center

Earth Law Center ( works to transform the law to recognize and protect nature’s inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. ELC seeks systemic change: an evolution of environmental governance that prevents environmental degradation beyond
the point of natural restoration.

About Mission Blue

Led by legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue is uniting a global coalition to inspire an upwelling of public awareness, access and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas – Hope Spots

About Barbara Lausche, JD, Director Marine Policy Institute, Mote Marine Laboratory, Sarasota, Florida USA; Long-standing member: IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law; IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas; International Council of Environmental Law; The views expressed above are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Mote Marine Laboratory.

1.  OECD, Marine Protected Economics, Management and Effective Policy Mixes: Policy Highlights, 2 (2016), available at: (“OECD”); United Nations, Overfishing: A Threat to Marine Biodiversity (Aug. 31, 2017),


3. Marine protected areas (MPA), protected areas of seas and ocean, take many forms and offer varying levels of protection; but they all aim for conservation of the ocean and species within.