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New Spanish law grants struggling lagoon the rights of personhood

Tuesday, October 4th 2022, 11:20 am - The new law grants the lagoon the right to exist and evolve naturally.

Europe's largest saltwater lagoon is in trouble because fertilizer runoff is seeping into the water. In 2016, this contributed to a giant algal bloom that depleted oxygen in the shallow waters of Mar Menor, located off Spain's south-eastern coast.

It killed off 98 per cent of the highly endangered fan mussels that live there, along with countless other marine life, including sea horses, crabs, and fish. Philosophy of law professor Teresa Vicente Giménez of the Universidad de Murica employed a creative strategy to help: she launched a petition arguing the area should be granted personhood, which gives it the right to exist and evolve naturally.

About 640,000 locals signed it, and on September 21, 2022, government officials approved a bill detailing the lagoon's new liberties.

It's the first European ecosystem to have such rights, but the trend appears to be gaining traction worldwide. Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, India, New Zealand, and the United States have also granted natural spaces the rights of personhood. the right Experts say the idea was inspired by Indigenous communities, many of which believe humans and nature are interdependent.

Under the new Spanish law, citizens can sue to protect Mar Menor. The lagoon's legal guardians are comprised of government officials and appointed locals who can suggest actions that will benefit the lagoon.

A scientific committee has been appointed to monitor and gauge Mar Menor's health and identify new potential threats. Officials have also established a monitoring commission made up of farming and fishing industry representatives, environmentalists, and "other stakeholders," Science reports.

Mar Menor has a surface area of 135 km2 and a coastal length of 70 km with water no more than 7 metres deep. It is a huge tourist attraction, but recent deterioration has led to a steady decline in visitors.

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