Will Mar Menor become the first European nature reserve with legal personality?

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Mar Menor

MURCIA – With three months to go, 276,000 signatures are still needed before a bill can be submitted to the Spanish parliament. The aim of this initiative is to give the seriously endangered Mar Menor a better legal position. 

A total of 500,000 signatures must be collected by October 28, before the House of Representatives will consider the proposal. This is a real challenge for the initiators. But if they succeed in submitting the proposal, it could provide better protection for the Mar Menor. Located in the Murcia region, this is Spain’s largest inland sea. 

As a legal person, this important natural area would have rights that could be defended in the Spanish courts. However, it is not yet there. Because holding a referendum during a pandemic, with perimeter closures and other restrictions made it near impossible. Although, in the past nine months, a total of 224,000 signatures were collected at various locations in Spain. Digital signatures are invalid for a referendum. In the remaining three months, an additional 276,000 people will have to mobilise to achieve the intended goal. 

Mar Menor ecosystem critically endangered 

Once it succeeds, Mar Menor will be the first nature reserve in Europe to be recognised as a legal entity. Because with the bad state of the inland sea at the moment, there is a lot to defend. Furthermore, nitrates flowing into the lake from surrounding agriculture have caused a lot of damage in recent decades. Current legislation has not been able to prevent this unique ecosystem from being protected from this pollution. 

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Initiator Teresa Vicente received permission from the parliament in Madrid in September 2020 to start the citizens’ initiative. With that, the first hurdle was taken. The second, collecting a total of 500,000 signatures, will be another race against time. When the petition was launched in late October last year, Spain was in the midst of the pandemic and it was not easy for people to sign. Fortunately, that changed a few months ago. The signatures have poured in, but there are not nearly enough. 

It will be exciting whether the required half a million signatures will be put in place. The initiative not only arouses sympathy, but also encounters the necessary resistance. For example, a legal status would be harmful to farmers from the surrounding area. In addition, it is legally stipulated that only adults with a Spanish identity document may participate in the citizens’ initiative. 

400 locations to sign 

Anyone who wants and is allowed to support the initiative for better protection of the Mar Menor can visit supermarkets, hairdressers, clinics, hotels, shops and even vaccination sites in 400 different locations in Spain. 

If sufficient signatures are collected by the end of October and the Mar Menor is recognised as a legal person by Parliament, the nature reserve will be legally represented by regional and local government bodies, the Mar Menor Monitoring Commission and a scientific committee made up of national and international scientists. 

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