Earth Law Framework for Marine Protected Areas

Marine protected areas play an important role in protecting and restoring ocean health. Earth Law can ensure that these vital ecosystems receive the designation and management required to protect and restore them.

The Earth Law framework goes beyond the traditional methods of “resource management” to provide a clear legal mandate for administering protected areas as part of a holistic system of which humans are a part.

It should be obvious that we are part of Nature, not apart from Nature, and that what we do to the living world we do to ourselves.
— Dr. Sylvia Earle

What does the framework mean?

The Framework recognizes that marine ecosystems:

  • own themselves and have intrinsic value apart from human uses;

  • have the right to perform all of their natural functions; and

  • have the right to have a voice in decisions that may affect their health, including the right to legally defend themselves for damage caused (through human representation)

This framework allows ocean protection to continue to evolve, to address the worsening health of ocean ecosystems by outlining guidelines for implementation as well as case studies and criteria for balancing rights conflict resolution. Practically, that means decisions which involve or may affect the marine ecosystem recognize its inherent rights, balancing the needs of the ecosystem with that of humans on a level playing field.

For more information you can read our FAQs (PDF).

For help implementing the framework where you are, contact ELC’s Ocean Rights Manager Michelle Bender.


Check out this video from ocean rowing champion Roz Savage on the need for better laws to protect the ocean. Earth Law Center works with local communities to help draft laws that protect oceans and the life that relies on them. Donate to Earth Law Center to help us further our efforts today!