Ocean Rights: An emerging environmental ethic to transform ocean governance

When we listen to global negotiations on climate, biodiversity, fisheries and areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ), there is a missing voice: that of the Ocean. Even though a healthy Ocean is key in our collective response to achieving 30x30 and much more, a comprehensive and collective recognition of the Ocean’s inherent rights and intrinsic value is lacking. What would happen if, in all these fora, the extraordinary value of a healthy Ocean is recognized and the Ocean given a seat at the table? Could we address the silos and fragmentation? Would this help achieve existing objectives and goals of environmental law?

Over thirty countries have embraced Rights of Nature, whether in the form of constitutional amendments, national law, judicial decisions, treaty agreements, local law, or resolutions: in fact, 200 laws and policies exist now in Ecuador, Uganda, Mexico, Spain, India, Colombia, Panama, New Zealand and the United States, amongst others. This talk will delve into the Rights of Nature movement, its difference between traditional environmental law, and how it is being applied in the United States and internationally to protect the Ocean and human life.

About the Speaker

Headshot of Michelle Bender
Michelle Bender

Michelle serves as Legal Counsel for Ocean Vision Legal, a firm specializing in direct legal action to protect the ocean. She is a leading expert in the field of Earth law, specifically Rights of Nature (RoN), as the previous Ocean Campaigns Director for the Earth Law Center where she has helped draft RoN laws and policies worldwide, including in the United States, Panama, the Philippines and within international law and institutions. She is the founder and creator of 'Ocean Rights', which builds upon the RoN framework within the ocean policy seascape.

Michelle also specializes in sea otter conservation and marine mammal protection in the United States, and most recently, the growing threat of Deep-Sea mining. She serves on the Advisory Board (previously Executive Committee) for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and is a member of the IUCN's World Commission on Environmental Law. In 2018 she was named one of 15 Youth Ocean Leaders taking on the world internationally by the Sustainable Ocean Alliance. Michelle graduated Summa Cum Laude from Vermont Law School, where she earned a Master’s in Environmental Law and Policy and holds a B.S. in Biology with a Marine Emphasis from Western Washington University.

Environmental Speaker Series

The Environmental Speaker Series is hosted by the College of the Environment at Western Washington University.

The Series is free and open to the public. Talks are held each Thursday at 4:30 pm in Academic Instructional Center West room 204 - AW-204. Talks will also be streamed via zoom. Register with the Alumni Association for the zoom link. Paid parking is available in lot C.

Learn more about the Environmental Speaker Series
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