The Mar Menor, a Spanish lagoon, obtains the status of legal personality, the first in Europe

Posted October 16, 2022

Once a lagoon paradise in southeastern Spain, the Mar Menor is slowly dying from agricultural pollution and rampant urbanization. To protect this ecosystem, the Spanish Parliament joined a popular initiative and voted in favor of a legal personality granted to the lagoon. A first in Europe, which makes it possible to put the rights of nature on an equal footing with human rights.

For the first time in Europe, a natural ecosystem obtains the status of legal personality. The Spanish parliament has just granted it to the Mar Menor, a lagoon located in the south-east of the country, so that it can be represented before a court as a person or a company and thus defend their rights. Election day, the local newspaper The Green greeted a “historic day” while the national newspaper El País it evokes “an unimaginable election of two years ago”, when it all began, and a “legal innovation”.

“This law will allow to act directly in the name of Mar Menor by designated guardians. This allows us to rebalance the forces before the judges who will evaluate human but also non-human interests”, comments to Novetic Marine Yzquierdo, attorney at the Paris Bar and member of the board of directors of Notre affaires à tous, specialist in energy and environmental law. “It’s a complementary way to protect nature while environmental protection associations today face procedural constraints to take action,” she adds.

“The Mar Menor at the forefront of nature protection in Europe”

Located near Murcia, a highly urbanized coastal region known for its agricultural greenhouses, the Mar Menor lagoon, with an area of ​​170 km², is separated from the Mediterranean Sea by a narrow sand barrier. In the last ten years it has regularly appeared on the front page of Iberian newspapers due to various pollution. In 2016, the entire lagoon had turned green due to the proliferation of microalgae, causing the loss of almost 80% of underwater vegetation. In 2019, then in 2021, tons of fish were found dead from eutrophication (lack of oxygen) in the water.

Designated, inter alia, RAMSAR Wetland, Specially Protected Area for the Mediterranean (Barcelona Convention), Special Protection Area for Birds (ZEPA), Site of Conservative Importance belonging to the Natura 2000 Network, the Mar Menor remains in danger , undergoing severe deterioration. This is what prompted Teresa Vicente Giménez, Professor of Legal Philosophy and Director of the Chair of Human Rights and Natural Rights at the University of Murcia, to launch a popular legislative initiative in 2020. Signed by over 640,000 people, it crossed the threshold to be discussed in Parliament.

“It was a long and difficult path, which benefited from an extraordinary citizen participation, born from the serious concern aroused by the degradation of the Mar Menor as a result of human activity, by the ineffectiveness of the laws in force for their protection and empowerment of companies This law transcends the borders of Murcia and places Spain and the Mar Menor at the forefront of nature protection in Europe. A time of hope begins for the Mar Menor “, the platform For a pact rejoiced in a press release. for the Minor Sea.

“In France, the most successful project is the declaration of the rights of the Tavignanu river in Corsica”

Globally, other emblematic ecosystems have acquired legal personality such as the Te Urewera National Park in New Zealand or the Yarra River in Australia. In India, the Ganges and its tributary, the Yamuna, have also been officially endowed with their own legal personality. Ecuador is the first country to have sanctioned the rights of nature in its Constitution in 2008. In a collection published in March 2022 *, the NGO Notre affair à tous studied about sixty of them in 21 countries. “In France there are some more or less advanced initiatives, at the local level”, explains Marine Yzquierdo.

“The pioneering project was the Parliament of the Loire. There was also the appeal of the Rhone. The most successful is the declaration of the rights of the Tavignanu river in Corsica, which was supported by a motion adopted by Bastia and the community of Corsica Our goal now is to attach this declaration to urban plans or water development and management plans so that they are enforceable, “explains the lawyer. “We believe the change will happen locally,” he says.

Conception Alvarez @ conce1

* The rights of Nature – Towards a new paradigm for the protection of life, Our concern to all, Le Pommier, March 2022.

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