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GLORES Partner Spotlight: Earth Law Center

We are thrilled to shine this week’s Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES) Partner Spotlight on Earth Law Center!

Earth Law Center (ELC) 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. They bring innovative legal solutions to help catalyze, connect and strengthen current environmental protection efforts.



Despite international laws and agreements designed to sustain and protect the ocean, marine biodiversity and health is in decline. This degradation is because humans largely value the ocean as a resource and property, rather than as a life-giving partner. As a result, laws are designed by humans and for human benefit, and still allow pollution and degradation, rather than ensuring the ocean is healthy and thriving for its own sake.


We need nature at the IUCN 2017 World Congress. Photo: Linda Sheehan


ELC’s proposed solution: recognize and protect the ocean’s rights. This movement aims to shift the paradigm from human-centered to nature-centered, such that humans can create a sustainable relationship with nature. Ecuador, Bolivia and Mexico City now protect the rights of nature in their constitutions and national law, and the New Zealand, Indian and Colombian governments are divesting “ownership” of ecosystems and acknowledging them as “legal entities” subject to basic rights. Over 30 municipalities in the US have also passed rights of nature ordinances.

This year Earth Law Center launched the Earth Law Framework for Marine Protected Areas, spearheaded by Ocean Rights Manager Michelle Bender. The Framework serves as a guideline for evolving marine protected area (MPA) governance to include a holistic and rights-based approach.



Rather than looking at the ocean as a limitless resource, the Framework considers the ocean as a fellow subject — that is, an entity with a legal right to exist, thrive and evolve.

The ocean rights framework specifically calls for:

  • the legal recognition of marine protected areas;
  • the legal recognition of the rights of and values associated with marine protected areas;
  • the appointment of guardians to represent marine protected areas’ interests;
  • the right for humans to speak on behalf of marine protected areas in legal matters; and
  • the application of legal rights in the existing governance system.

More on what the framework entails can be found here.


Arc-eye hawkfish off of Tokashiki Island. Photo: Vincent Chen


We asked Earth Law Center why they became a GLORES Partner:

“We know that just because a marine area is labeled as ‘protected’ that it does not mean protection is effective or being implemented. The ELC and GLORES frameworks are the result of a common goal—to ensure marine ecosystems are fully protected and for their own sake.

ELC first learned about GLORES while researching what sort of criteria could inform decisions and governance in an Earth Law approach. The GLORES criteria is very much in line with what Earth Law Center is promoting. It is critical that science-based decisions guide policy, rather than human desires, and GLORES creates science-based standards that guide long-term conservation.


Sunset in New Zealand. Photo: Stina Bagge


In fact, ELC included GLORES in the Earth Law Framework good governance criteria, requiring ‘the more protection, the higher the score’ in weighted decisions:


To assess the strength of an MPA’s regulations, the Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES) evaluation employs a classification system based on the number of fishing gears allowed, their ecological impact, the types of bottom exploitation and aquaculture allowed and the regulations relating to recreational boating (Costa et al. 2016).

In the weighted scores, more protection receives a higher score. Assigning scores to attributes such as type of fishing gear, type of activity (extractive = lower score, tourism = higher score) and impact of activity (higher impact = lower score) can help provide a total score to help assess alternatives and make sound decisions.


But perhaps the most important reason why ELC became a GLORES partner is because we cannot hope to change the paradigm and protect and restore the ocean alone. We all need to work together. Though every ocean-focused organization has different strategies and objectives, we are all working towards the same common goal. Each organization brings a particular piece to the puzzle, and we can only finish the puzzle with all the pieces working together.”


Holding our “One Blue Earth”. From left: Michelle Bender, ELC; Jose Truda Palazzo Jr., Brazil Humpback Whale Institute and Charlotte Vick, Mission Blue.


Marine Conservation Institute launched its GLORES Accelerator program to help new MPAs better protect ocean wildlife. Support this project today, and we’ll double your impact to help save marine ecosystems!

Please join us for a fun-filled night of deep-sea coral conversation at Marine Conservation Institute’s Summer Ocean Party on July 23 at Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma, CA. Learn about our work, meet our collaborators and enjoy dinner, a silent auction, music and drinks!