On 30 September 2022, the Spanish Government approved the landmark Law 19/2022 “for the recognition of legal personality of the Mar Menor lagoon and its basin” which grants a new legal status to the Mar Menor coastal lagoon recognizing the rights of the Mar Menor lagoon ecosystem and its basin and allowing for its autonomous governance. The lagoon marine ecosystem of the Mar Menor, with an area of 135 km 2, is the largest coastal lagoon in the Spanish Mediterranean and one of the largest in the western Mediterranean, and, according to the WWF, the Europe’s largest salt-water lagoon. This innovative Law transforms the treatment of the lagoon given until now “from being a mere object of protection, recovery and development, to being an inseparably biological, environmental, cultural and spiritual subject.”
The new law came after an initiative backed by more than 600,000 citizens to provide better protection for the threatened ecosystem of the Mar Menor lagoon, which has suffered for decades massive die-offs of marine life due to degradation caused by coastal development and local farming. Interestingly, the Spanish non-governmental organization (NGO) Ecologistas en Acción de la Región Murciana communicated with the UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention Secretariat and originated proceedings in 2017, claiming that Spain had serious difficulties in complying with its obligations under the Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean (Barcelona Convention) and its Protocol concerning Specially Protected Areas and Biological Diversity in the Mediterranean (SPA/BD Protocol). The Compliance Committee of the Barcelona Convention, at its 18th Meeting, adopted “Findings and Recommendations Concerning Compliance by Spain” (30 June 2022).
Faced with a serious socio-environmental, ecological and humanitarian crisis that the Mar Menor and the inhabitants of its riverside municipalities are experiencing and, especially, with the inadequacy of the current legal protection system, the Spanish Government proceeded to an ecocentric interpretation of its legal system and declared the legal personality of the Mar Menor lagoon and its basin recognizing it as a subject of rights (Article 1). In doing so, it has taken a qualitative leap, adopting a new legal-political model, in line with the international legal vanguard and the global movement to recognize the rights of nature.
By granting rights to the natural entity of the Mar Menor, the new legislation strengthens and expands the rights of the people who live in the lagoon area and are threatened by ecological degradation. Local communities are vested with the so-called biocultural rights to defend and manage their environmental interests. By these new participatory rights, the three pillars of the Aarhus Convention (right to information, right to participation and right to justice) take on a new dimension. It is important the new legislation incorporates instruments not only for participation but also for the autonomous management of local communities over the protected natural area, subordinating expectations and private interests to environmental ones.
The Mar Menor and its basin are recognized with the rights to protection, conservation, maintenance and, where appropriate, restoration, in charge of the governments and the riverside inhabitants as well as with the right to exist as an ecosystem and to evolve naturally, which will include all the natural characteristics of the water, the communities of organisms, the soil and the terrestrial and aquatic subsystems that are part of the Mar Menor lagoon and its basin. The four rights, it recognizes, are the right to exist and evolve naturally, the right to protection, the right to conservation and the right to restoration (Article 2). Mar Menor will be represented by a set of legal guardians composed of government representatives and local citizens, and a scientific committee will keep under observation the ecosystem’s health and advise on restoration processes.
Under this Law, any natural or legal person is entitled to defend the ecosystem of the Mar Menor, and can enforce the rights and prohibitions through an action filed in the corresponding Court or Public Administration (Article 6). Correspondingly, any conduct that violates the rights recognized and guaranteed by this law, by any public authority, private law entity, natural person or legal person will generate criminal, civil, environmental and administrative liability, and will be prosecuted and sanctioned accordingly. (Article 4). All provisions contrary to this Law are repealed.
For more information, see:
- https://aarhusclearinghouse.unece.org/resources/spain-granting-legal-personality-natural-areas-order-ensure-their protection?individual=1&field_resource_geography_value=1000080
About the author
MEPIELAN Centre is an international research, training and educational centre established by Professor Evangelos Raftopoulos at the Panteion University of Athens in 2008.
Before its establishment as a University Centre, MEPIELAN operated as a successful international research, training and informational programme (2002-2007) under the scientific direction of Professor Evangelos Raftopoulos and the aegis of the Panteion University of Athens, supported by the Mediterranean Action Plan/UNEP and the Greek Ministry of the Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works.
MEPIELAN Centre is an accredited UNEP/MAP PARTNER (since 2013), a Member of the Mediterranean Commission on Sustainable Development (MCSD) (since 2016), and a Member of the Steering Committee of the MCSD (since 2019).
On 22 May 2022, MEPIELAN Centre proceeded to the development of MEPIELAN as a Non- Profit Civil Organization (INGO) for the more effective and efficient advancement of its Goals and Missions and furtherance of its activities. MEPIELAN Centre as a Non- Profit Civil Organization (INGO) is registered in Greek Law (Hellenic Business Registry, Reg. No. 16477300100) in accordance with Laws 4072/2012 & 4919/2022 as applicable