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He Whakaputanga Moana

18th April, 2024 Environment

He Whakaputanga Moana

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  • Whales and dolphins have been officially recognized as “legal persons” in a new treaty formed by Pacific Indigenous leaders from the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Aotearoa (New Zealand), and Tonga.

He Whakaputanga Moana

  • "He Whakaputanga Moana" refers to the legal personhood status granted to whales, dolphins, and other cetaceans in Palau, a Pacific island nation.


  • Palau, an archipelago located in the western Pacific Ocean, is known for its rich marine biodiversity and vibrant coral reefs.
  • The Palauan government has been proactive in marine conservation efforts, recognizing the importance of preserving its marine ecosystems and the species dependent on them.

Legal Personhood Status:

  • In a groundbreaking move, Palau has granted legal personhood to whales, dolphins, and other cetaceans through the enactment of "He Whakaputanga Moana," which translates to "Declaration of the Sea."
  • This legal status grants cetaceans certain rights and protections under the law, acknowledging their intrinsic value and significance in the marine environment.

Purpose and Significance:

  • The decision to grant legal personhood to cetaceans reflects Palau's commitment to conservation and biodiversity preservation.
  • By recognizing cetaceans as legal persons, Palau aims to address the decline in cetacean populations and mitigate threats such as habitat degradation, pollution, and unsustainable fishing practices.

Significance of Granting Legal Personhood:

Environmental Protection and Conservation:

  • Granting legal personhood to natural entities such as rivers, forests, and ecosystems facilitates their protection and conservation under the law.
  • It enables legal action to be taken against activities that harm or degrade these entities, leading to better preservation of biodiversity and ecological integrity.

Recognition of Intrinsic Value:

  • Legal personhood acknowledges the intrinsic value and rights of natural entities beyond their utility to humans.
  • It reflects a shift towards recognizing the inherent worth of nature and its components, fostering a more holistic and sustainable approach to environmental management.

Enhanced Legal Standing and Representation:

  • Legal personhood provides natural entities with legal standing, enabling them to be represented in legal proceedings and advocate for their interests.
  • This allows for greater consideration of environmental concerns and the voices of non-human beings in decision-making processes.

Promotion of Environmental Justice:

  • Granting legal personhood promotes environmental justice by ensuring that the rights and interests of natural entities are safeguarded, particularly in cases where they are disproportionately impacted by human activities.
  • It empowers communities and stakeholders to hold accountable those responsible for environmental harm and advocate for sustainable practices.

Cultural and Spiritual Recognition:

  • Legal personhood acknowledges the cultural and spiritual significance of natural entities to indigenous and local communities.
  • It validates traditional knowledge and practices associated with nature and strengthens connections between people and the environment, contributing to cultural preservation and well-being.

Some examples of legal personhood granted to entities other than humans globally

New Zealand's Whanganui River:

In 2017, the New Zealand government passed legislation granting legal personhood to the Whanganui River. This status recognizes the river as an indivisible and living whole, with its own rights and interests. The legislation aims to protect and restore the health and well-being of the river ecosystem.

Ecuador's Constitution:

Ecuador's Constitution, adopted in 2008, recognizes the rights of nature and grants legal personhood to ecosystems. This legal framework acknowledges nature's intrinsic value and the interconnectedness of human and natural systems. It allows for the protection and conservation of ecosystems and their components.

Colombia's Atrato River:

In 2016, Colombia's Constitutional Court recognized the Atrato River as a legal person with rights to protection, conservation, maintenance, and restoration. This decision addresses environmental degradation and ensures the river's sustainable management and use for future generations.

Argentina's Orangutans:

In 2014, an Argentine court granted legal personhood to Sandra, an orangutan living in captivity at the Buenos Aires Zoo. The court ruled that Sandra is a "non-human person" with inherent rights, including the right to liberty. This decision set a precedent for recognizing the rights of non-human animals in legal proceedings.


Some examples of legal personhood granted to entities other than humans in India

Ganges and Yamuna Rivers:

In 2017, the Uttarakhand High Court in India granted legal personhood to the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers, considering them "living entities" with rights akin to those of humans. This status aims to protect the rivers from pollution and degradation and promote their conservation and restoration.

Gomti River:

In 2018, the Allahabad High Court in India granted legal personhood to the Gomti River, recognizing it as a "living entity" with legal rights and responsibilities. This decision aims to address pollution and encroachment issues along the river and ensure its sustainable management and conservation.

Agricultural Land:

In some Indian states, agricultural land has been granted legal personhood to protect it from unauthorized conversion or misuse. For example, in Kerala, agricultural land is considered a legal entity with rights and restrictions under the Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act, 2008.

Sacred Groves and Forests:

Sacred groves and forests in India have been granted legal personhood in some regions to protect them from deforestation, encroachment, and commercial exploitation. These areas are recognized as sacred sites with cultural, religious, and ecological significance, and legal measures are in place to preserve their integrity.

Animals in Welfare Legislation:

While not explicitly granting legal personhood, India has enacted various welfare legislation to protect animals from cruelty and exploitation. For example, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, of 1960, provides legal protections to animals and imposes penalties for acts of cruelty toward them. Additionally, the Wildlife Protection Act, of 1972, aims to conserve and protect wildlife species and their habitats.




Q. Discuss the concept of legal personhood granted to natural entities, such as rivers, ecosystems, and other environmental features, concerning its significance in environmental conservation and governance. Explain the implications of granting legal personhood to these entities and analyze its potential role in promoting environmental justice and sustainability. Support your answer with relevant examples from both national and international contexts. ( 250 Words)