An Earth Law Framework for Marine Protected Areas

Adopting a holistic, systems and rights-based approach to ocean governance.

Marine protected areas can play an important role in protecting and restoring ocean health. A unifying thread behind an effective marine protected area, is the existence of an effective framework, or legal structure, providing the basis for effective “protection and enforcement of rights and responsibilities.”[i]  ELC has completed extensive research and analysis in formulating a new framework for marine protected areas. What does legal rights for the ocean mean? Read more with responses to frequently asked questions

To add your input into the final framework, submit the form below by December 31, 2017.  


Are you an expert or stakeholder?  Have you worked to establish or implement Marine Protected Areas?  We want you invaluable input!

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An Earth Law framework goes beyond the traditional methods of “resource” management[ii] to provide a clear legal mandate for managing protected areas as part of a system,[iii] and as part of the whole that humans are also a part of.

This framework is a first cut- with a ‘Call for Inputs’ to gain a global consensus on effective policy measures and support for an ocean-centered approach to ocean protection.

Together we can ensure a healthy and thriving ocean.


U.N. Ocean Conference Testimony

ELC presented a “Call for Action” to governments around the world in June 2017 to incorporate nature's (ocean) rights into their legal systems.  That testimony garnered the support of over 60 organizations from 32 countries (which remains open to signatories).  To add your voice to this ongoing initiative email

The ocean covers over seventy percent of our planet, generates over fifty percent of the oxygen, regulates climate and provides food and jobs for millions of people. Over-fishing, pollution and habitat destruction has led to a global decline in marine biodiversity of 49%, roughly half of what it was 50 years ago. With climate change expected to exacerbate the decline of marine ecosystem health, the time is now to ensure we protect this vital part of our planet, the source of life.

ELC’s ‘Ocean Rights-based Governance’ initiative advances ocean stewardship by promoting governance centered on the Ocean’s well-being and guided by principles of sustainability, ecosystem, precaution and interconnectedness. The Ocean influences our climate, and in turn, our climate effects ocean and coastal communities. Accordingly, the program aims to not only establish protection for coastal communities and marine ecosystems, but to ensure these areas are fully protected and effectively managed. ELC’s objectives to ensure this outcome include:

Objective 1: Creating a holistic and ocean rights-based model legislation for ocean law and policy.

Objective 2: Establishing marine protected areas and sanctuaries, and securing legal rights for these areas.

Objective 3: Passing rights of nature laws in coastal communities, focusing on sustainability and proactive management.

Objective 4: Ensuring international treaty laws reflect the inherent rights of the ocean (such as through the Marine Biodiversity Treaty for the High Seas and Beyond, currently under negotiation).


Read Our Blogs 

And learn more about our initiatives, or contact Michelle Bender, Ocean Rights Manager:


Other Information

[i]   Car-Spaw, MPA Governance: Design and implement the appropriate legal, policy and social framework for long-term success, available at:

[ii]  Marc Mangel et al., Principles for the Conservation of Wild Living Resources, Ecological Applications, vol. 6, no. 2, 342 (1996), available at:

[iii] Barbara Lausche, Guidelines for Protected Areas Legislation, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, 20 (2011), available at: