As part of the Rights of Nature movement that recognises the inherent rights of ecosystems and species, a new law in Panama has granted some legal rights to sea turtles,. The law aims to protect sea turtles from human impacts such as pollution, climate change, poaching, and coastal development.
This law reflects a trend toward recognising the legal rights of some non-human animals and nature in other countries, such as Ecuador and Pakistan. In 2020, a Pakistan court ruled on a case that recognised some rights of an elephant kept captive in a zoo. In 2022, Ecuador’s highest court ruled in a case about a monkey kept in a private home that wild animals are rights-holders under the constitutional provisions for rights of nature.
Callie Veelenturf, the founder of The Leatherback Project, said, “[this law] will allow any Panamanian citizen to be the voice of sea turtles and defend them legally…We will be able to hold governments, corporations, and public citizens legally accountable for violations of the rights of sea turtles.” Erica Lyman, clinical law professor and director of the Global Law Alliance for Animals and the Environment at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, said, “Business as usual laws aren’t doing enough to protect against the extinction crisis and climate change… this is an attempt at a new kind of framing that offers hope.” David Godfrey, executive director of the Sea Turtle Conservancy, said, “These animals have a right to exist, whether or not they benefit us. They do happen to benefit us in many ways. But they have a right to exist, even if they don’t… it’s refreshing to see a nation take that stance.” Christopher Berry, managing attorney at the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said, “Making sure there is a way to actually enforce a violation of these rights when a violation happens is really an incredibly important animal law issue that doesn’t get enough attention.”
Panama has some of the most important nesting sites in the world for sea turtles, so this protection could be very effective against egg poachers and other hazards.