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Rights of Wetlands Frequently Asked Questions


What is a wetland?

A wetland is defined as areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres. Wetlands may incorporate riparian and coastal zones adjacent to the wetlands, and islands or bodies of marine water deeper than six metres at low tide lying within the wetlands. There are six distinct kinds of wetlands: marine (coastal wetlands including coastal lagoons, rocky shores, and coral reefs); estuarine (including deltas, tidal marshes, and mangrove swamps); lacustrine (wetlands associated with lakes); riverine (wetlands along rivers and streams); and palustrine (meaning “marshy” - marshes, swamps and bogs). (from Convention on Wetlands:

Why are wetlands important?

Wetlands are considered one of the world’s most productive environments. They serve as cradles of biological diversity to countless species of plants, fish, birds, and animals. For humans, wetlands provide benefits or “ecosystem services” ranging from freshwater supply, food and building materials, and biodiversity, to flood control and storm damage prevention, groundwater recharge, pollution attenuation, and climate change mitigation and resilience.

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How are wetlands and other ecosystems seen today in law?

Countries around the world, whether they are linked to English Common Law or not, operate similarly when it comes to Nature. The basic construct is to categorize Nature as property which then carries with it the ability to own as well as dictate what happens to Nature and its components. This othering or seeing Nature as a thing has allowed for the development of regulatory laws that permit the legal destruction of the natural world. Even laws designed to be for conservation rather than for exploitation are limited in their ability to protect ecosystems beyond the valuation assigned to the ecosystem for human benefit.

What are Rights of Nature?

Legal Rights of Nature efforts are a response to the current legal reality that treats Nature as property. Created by policy and/or by judicial decree, Rights of Nature frames Nature/ecosystems as holding rights which elevates Nature/ecosystems in legal status, thereby allowing for the needs of the ecosystem, for its own sake, to be considered and protected. (more information can be found here)

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What are the Rights of Wetlands?

Rights of Wetlands articulates Rights of Nature that are specifically appropriate for wetlands and that contribute to ensuring the continued existence, health, and well-being of wetlands based on their inherent characteristics and qualities, many of which differ in important ways from other Nature entities. The identified Rights of Wetlands consist of the right to: exist; ecologically determined location in the landscape; natural, connected, and sustainable hydrological regimes; ecologically sustainable climatic conditions; naturally occurring biodiversity, be free of introduced or invasive species that disrupt their ecological integrity; integrity of structure, function, evolutionary processes and the ability to fulfill natural ecological roles in the Earth’s processes; be free from pollution and degradation; and regeneration and restoration.

Are human rights (such as economic rights/rights to extract from Nature, property rights) in conflict with Nature’s rights?

Not necessarily. The function of legal Rights of Nature is to consider the needs of Nature/a particular ecosystem and how the ecosystem’s needs interface with human activities that are either compatible with, or in conflict to, Nature’s rights. Because humans are a part of Nature, human rights are also considered when Nature’s rights are considered, similar to how when rights of different people are in conflict, both parties’ rights are considered. A recent example from Ecuador, which has constitutionalized rights of Nature, denied the property right of a foreign mining company to mine because the activity would violate both the rights of the forest ecosystem as well as the human right to water. Decisions about what rights will be considered higher than others will need to be taken on a case by case basis until Rights of Nature is more universally adopted and respected.

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Shouldn’t human needs for food, shelter, water, and poverty alleviation take precedence over Rights of Wetlands/Nature?

First, humans are a part of the Web of Life too, and sustainable solutions can and should be implemented that address poverty alleviation, environmental justice, housing and food issues. In addition, if we continue on our current trajectory, food harvests and freshwater supplies will continue to dwindle (this is already happening as drought and water shortages increase) at an accelerating pace, and forests, fisheries, and other elements of the Web of Life upon which humans depend for housing and food will continue to be negatively impacted by climate change, unsustainable agricultural, forests, water, and land use, fisheries and energy practices, and biodiversity loss. The unfolding result of the current patterns of human consumption-of-Nature is that the fulfillment of human economic needs including housing, food, and clean water is deteriorating along with the deteriorating ecosystems that provide (directly or indirectly) everything to humans.

There are several other Declarations of the Rights of Nature, why do we need a Declaration of the Rights of Wetlands?

Yes, there are several other Declarations, including the overarching Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth (, which articulates a broad set of rights for “Mother Earth and all beings of which she is composed” and the obligations that people have to Mother Earth. Other Nature entity/ecosystem-specific Declarations include the Kichwa Original Peoples of Sarayaku Declaration of the Living Forest (, and the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Rivers ( While it could be possible to just have one overarching Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth that encompasses all of Nature, there is great value in the more specific Declarations for three main reasons:

1) Each more specific Declaration articulates unique rights that fit a particular element/entity of Nature, but may not work well for other elements of Nature, (as discussed by Thomas Berry in his 2001 “The Origin, Differentiation and Role of Rights” document (, which states, “All rights in living forms are species specific and limited. Birds have bird rights. Insects have insect rights. Humans have human rights. Difference in rights is qualitative, not quantitative. The rights of an insect would be of no value to a tree or a fish.”;

2) Each Declaration can speak to a particular group of people who are passionate about, inspired by, connected to, work with, live with, and love a specific element/entity of Nature, and the Declaration can be an organizing tool for them to seek rights for that specific element/entity of Nature; and

3) The organizations and people who are involved in the different Declarations can collaborate and support each other, organically building a network of RON advocates, and manifesting one of the ways that Nature works to heal herself, since we are part of Nature.

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