14 Julio 2022
The biggest -and probably the most damaged- salty lagoon in Europe is in South East Spain, in critical conditions. During the last years, it has suffered the appearance of invasive microorganisms and several events of mass fish deaths. After a long campaign promoted by citizens, the Spanish Parliament voted to provide Murcia´s Mar Menor ecosystem with legal personhood. Susana Borrás, PhD in environmental law, says that its time to shift our legal framework to an ecocentric perspective
My grandad was born near the Mar Menor (Small Sea) in Murcia, and we had many summer holidays there. My mum remembers sunny summers, with plenty of restaurants on the inward beach, aquatic sports, long hours in the water and warm nights outdoors with the family. She also mentioned how creepy the algae were. It was time to provide this ecosystem with legal personhood.
The Mar Menor has 170 km2 with a narrow land arm called La Manga (The Sleeve), which separates it from the Mediterranean Sea. In some places, this arm doesn’t even have 100 metres wide. It had just a tiny mouth where the water came in through. Therefore, it is a unique ecosystem independent of the sea with characteristical features, marine vegetation and fisheries. Until the weight of the intensive farming on the lands surrounding it and the impact of the urbanistic development make it collapse.
Some anthropogenic events brought terrible consequences. It was a drastic increase in invasive microorganisms, several episodes of “Green soup” caused by algae, and mass fish deaths. Authorities collected more than 3 tonnes of dead fish in 2019 and more than 4 in 2021. The Spanish National Research Council has warned of another mass dying this summer.
The ecocide began several decades ago when the Tourism Rush got Spain. In the ’70s and ’80s, La Manga had a touristic boom that shifted a useless dune land into a prolific resort with a not-too-good sewage system. Moreover, the agriculture nearby, which is very important for Europe food production, has contaminated with pesticides and herbicides the underground and overground water streams, which end in the Mar Menor.
It´s a citizen fight
In such a bad state, the citizens decided to take action. The platform ILP Mar Menor collected over 500,000 signatures to provide legal personhood to Mar Menor. According to them, it has been a success. The platform spokesperson, Rocio García, said to El Diario: “It´s the first time we see different collectives and the whole society join efforts with just one environmental purpose; save Mar Menor.
Alex Putzer, a PhD fellow at the Sant´Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, explains that the right of nature makes easier the relationship between a natural ecosystem and human law. However, he recognises that it is not easy as no unique legal definition exists. Moreover, each ecosystem has its features; a river is different from a rainforest or a coral reef.
“I don´t think that applying the right of nature will solve all problems, but it will add value to wildlife protection.
“Ecosystems won´t be a protected object, anymore, but a subject itself with protection.”
Now is time for Europe to reconnect with nature. Susana Borrás, PhD in environmental law, says that it´s time to shift our legal framework to an eccentric perspective; this is just the first step.
The Spanish congress gives a final green light to this initiative. The next step will be in the Senate, although it´s likely to be just a bureaucratic step.
Now that it is officially approved, it is the clearest example of the rights of nature in Europe; other societies with stronger links with nature already did it, though. For example, with this figure, Colombia stopped the deforestation of the Colombian Amazon, and the US recognised the rights to the River Colorado to “exist, flourish, regenerate, be restored, and naturally evolve”.