Human Rights for the Ocean
The prime minister of the Cook Islands on Tuesday called on the United Nations to consider giving the ocean the legal rights of a person.
“As ocean voyagers we have always treated the ocean with respect from time immemorial,” said Henry Puna, prime minister of the South Pacific nation, at a side event at the U.N. Ocean Conference in New York City. “This is an integral part of our culture. To have the deepest respect and regard for nature, which in turn would continue to ensure it would provide for our needs and the needs for the generations to come. It is with this acknowledgment of our cultural heritage under the United Nations World Heritage Convention that I ask that we explore a new concept – the concept of the rights of the ocean as a legal person.”
It was not, he noted, a new idea. Earlier this year, the New Zealand Parliament granted the legal rights of a person to a river regarded as kin by the Maori people. And in 2008, Ecuador adopted a constitution that granted legal rights to nature.
“The ocean is provider, our sustainer and our lifeblood,” Puna told a gathering of representatives of South Pacific island nations. “She provides for us and nourishes us and it’s time we elevate her to a status that commands respect and recognition. Yet we mistreat our ocean with pollution and overfishing and the impact of climate change such as ocean acidification, coral bleaching, which in turn brings about sea level rise and more severe and frequent cyclones.”
The Cook Islands have a population of 21,000 and, like other small South Pacific archipelagoes, 99 percent of the country’s territory lies in the ocean. Puna’s government has proposed protecting 60 percent of its 707,000 square mile (1.8 million square km) exclusive economic zone as a marine park.
Puna said that the United States’ move to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement signaled “an attitude that the environment is separate from us, that humans can continue as business as usual and what we do to the environment will not come back and impact upon us.”
“The ocean has been mistreated with injustice and disrespect,” he added. “And so now we find it necessary to fight for the rights of the ocean.”
Star Power at the U.N. Ocean Conference
Actor and environmental activist Adrian Grenier dropped by the U.N. Ocean Conference on Tuesday to promote a campaign against ocean plastic pollution.
Grenier’s Lonely Whale Foundation’s Strawless Ocean initiative seeks to persuade people to stop using single-use plastic straws, which are consumed at a rate of 500 million a day in the U.S. alone.
The U.N. Environment Programme on Monday named the “Entourage” star as a goodwill ambassador and Grenier appeared on a panel on ocean plastic pollution at the SDG Media Zone, which was packed with selfie-seeking fans when it came to his turn on stage.
He said that it’s unrealistic to expect people to stop using plastics cold turkey, so the foundation chose to focus on something easy to give up – straws.
“We have to start with something simple, accessible and inspirational to get as many people on board as possible,” said Grenier. “While the single-use plastic straw may be the low-hanging plastic … it’s also a gateway. They might think, ‘If I can do plastic straws, maybe I can do plastic lids, maybe I’ll bring a reusable container to have my coffee in in the morning.’ It really does become an opportunity for people to do more.”
Governments, seafood companies and environmental groups have signed a declaration that seeks to stop illegally caught tuna from coming to market by 2020.
The “Tuna 2020 Traceability Declaration” was announced Monday at the U.N. Ocean Conference, which is seeking, among other things, ways to end overfishing. The 50 tuna retailers and wholesalers, five South Pacific island nations and 19 foundations and environmental groups called for the full traceability of tuna by 2020. “Tuna products in our supply chains will be fully traceable to the vessel and trip dates, and … this information will be disclosed upon request at the point of sale either on the packaging or via an online system,” the declaration states.