Ocean is a living thing, scientists say

(ORDO NEWS) — According to the authors of the study, the world’s oceans are at risk of losing their ability to support life and can only be saved by a radical change in the relationship of man to the sea.

“Humanity’s relationship with the ocean needs to be transformed to effectively address the multiple governance crises facing the ocean, including overfishing, climate change, pollution, and habitat destruction,” the authors state.

Written by Oxford University Ph.D. Dr. Kelsey Leonard and policy researchers at the Earth Law Centre, this article highlights the success of Indigenous environmental practices around the world.

Many of the examples cited present people as the “custodians” of nature rather than as owners or exploiters of the planet and its resources.

For example, the authors mention a landmark 2017 ruling that granted New Zealand’s Wanganui River legal personality.

Therefore, anyone who wants to use the river for economic activity must “recognize and consider not only the legal status of the river, but also its intrinsic values.”

Marine biodiversity has declined by 49 percent over the past half century, researchers say, and such a policy will offer hope for the protection of aquatic wildlife.

Recognizing the inalienable rights of the ocean can also help us build a more sustainable fishing industry, the authors say.

As an example, they point to the decision made by the Zilcotin Nation in 2020 to give up their own fishing rights to allow Chinook salmon from the Fraser River to recover, thereby contributing to the overall health of the river and its ecosystem.

Other examples illustrate how the Law of the Earth can help mitigate the climatic effects of human activities.

For example, by declaring the Belize Barrier Reef a living thing in 2011, the national government was able to hold polluters accountable for much more than just property damage or financial loss.

In one case, the owners of a ship that had run aground on a reef were ordered to pay damages for “loss of habitat, protection from erosion, storm surge, and loss of biodiversity.”

Finally, the researchers say that the growing problem of plastic pollution can only be addressed by recognizing that the problem is “intertwined with colonialism and deprivation of indigenous peoples of land and water.”

In other words, they attribute the ocean’s depleting trend to the consumerist nature of Western market values.

They say that “if the ocean is recognized as a living being with rights that must be respected, then regulations will reorient the standards and indicators it contains to holistically include environmentally sound criteria for pollution control and elimination of colonial extractivism.”


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