Calls to grant seas legal rights
Seas need to be given the same legal rights as people in order to protect them from environmental ruin, experts say.
At a University of Auckland roundtable discussion last week experts discussed the future of the world’s seas, touching on a number of threats they faced including climate change, acidification, over fishing, plastics and pollution.
The forum, comprised of Auckland’s Marine Science Institute director Simon Thrush, emeritus professor Nordin Hassan, and senior lecturers Rochelle Constantine and Dan Hikuroa, discussed what could be done to help save the seas.
Hikuroa said that the next step in protecting our oceans was to give them a legal personality.
A legal personality has all the rights, duties and liabilities of a person but is not a human being.
In March the Whanganui River gained its own legal identity. Legislation recognised the spiritual connection between the Whanganui iwi and its ancestral river.
The new status of the river meant if someone abused or harmed the river the law would regard it as being no different as someone causing harm to the tribe.
A week after the Whanganui River became a legal personality an Indian court declared the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India as living entities.
The same status was granted to Te Urewera, a former national park in 2014.
Hikuroa said it was time to extend the legal concept to seas.
He said it wasn’t a coincidence that the sea, characterised as a female, came first in Maori’s creation legend. Land and life came after.
‘‘Give her a voice,’’ Hikuroa said.
He said the question should be how could a sea’s voice be heard and included in the decisions countries made on its behalf.
Giving seas a legal identity would mean that seas could be protected in courts.
New Zealand Centre for Environmental Law director Klaus Bosselmann said seas getting the same legal recognition as people was a clear prospect.
In April he presented to the United Nations on the issue and said it was becoming more common.
He said what was missing was a clear voice to remind governments of the possibility.
Dan Hikuroa says oceans need to be given a voice.