First International 'Ecological Forensics’ Forum to create effective strategies for ecosystem protection
By: Carlos Miret Fernandez
Last updated: Tuesday, 18 July 2023
The First International Forum for ‘Ecological Forensics’ took place on 13, 14 and 15 June 2023, hosted by Ecoforensic* with partners Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (GARN), CEDENMA, and Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar in Quito, Ecuador. A transdisciplinary gathering of 60 participants were invited to exchange knowledge and develop effective strategies to implement the Rights of Nature as a legal mechanism to protect biological diversity. Strategies were explored through rich panel presentations and participatory discussions involving a great diversity of people: environmental lawyers, academics, judges of the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court, biologists, biodiversity conservation experts, paraecologists, paralegals, environmental educators, artists, grassroots activists, and indigenous leaders from different communities.
The forum opened on Wednesday 13 June, with an introductory dinner and the viewing of the documentary 'Paraecologists for the Rights of Nature' that surprised and delighted, as many of the people featured in the film were also present. The group had an opportunity to kickstart the conversations in an informal setting. The next day, the forum featured four panels with representatives from legal, ecological, cultural, paraecological/paralegal that sensitively shared their knowledge. On Friday 15 June, the participants worked in groups to address complex topics that included the proactive protection of highly biodiverse areas using Rights of Nature legislation; challenges in protecting environmental defenders; and ‘what next?’ for legal cases that have been ruled against mining but continue to present livelihood challenges for local communities.
The first panel of lawyers and judges drew from their experiences in Rights of Nature cases to offer invaluable insights to some of the barriers posed by the legal process. The panel of ecologists outlined the challenges of providing compelling evidence in court on defining the structure and function of an ecosystem and measuring the impacts of human activity on evolutionary processes. They also emphasised threats of mining to endemic species of amphibians, such as the longnose harlequin frog (Atelopus longirostris), which was presumed extinct until it was rediscovered in 2016. A fitting topic of discussion was the recent Llurimagua Rights of Nature case win in the Provincial court, that is the result of over 30 years of struggle by the local community to keep mining out of the Intag Valley’s cloud forests.
Mika Peck, Professor of Conservation Ecology at the School of Life Sciences and founder of Ecoforensic, says: “Implementing Rights of Nature is a multidisciplinary challenge that must bring together law and ecology to define new criteria and understanding to effectively protect Nature as a subject in the court of law. This new discipline of ‘Ecological Forensics’ aims to define impacts to Nature’s lifecycles, structure, function, and evolutionary processes and support the defence of ecosystems within legal systems. It’s our duty as ecologists to provide frameworks for capacity-building in defence of Nature and proactively respond to halt biodiversity loss in face of the biodiversity and climate crises”.
The panel of indigenous leaders, represented by the Kichwa People of Sarayaku and the A'iCofan People of Sinangoe, related their ancestral beliefs of Nature as a living being, inseparable from humans, and highlighted their ongoing fight for territories free from extractive industries.They explained that the pressures of economic development meant that communities continue to suffer social division. Paraecologists and paralegals travelled from all corners of Ecuador, Esmeraldas, Andes, and the Amazon to reflect on the need to empower communities through capacity-building and knowledge exchange in ecology and legal matters. The paraecologists clearly valued the training received thatgave them the skills to understand and monitor biological ecosystems.
In interdisciplinary groups, participants discussed how to implement and advance the Rights of Nature, addressing big challenges. They highlighted that legal reforms and popular consultations are important tools to defend Nature’s rights, and that environmental education plays a fundamental role in building a collective consciousness around the intrinsic value of Nature.The debates centred aroundthe benefits of sharing information between scientists, lawyers, and environmental defenders, which are key to strengthen social resistance against threats of extractive industries. One of the biggest challenges, the groups agreed, is to provide evidence of complex human-Nature relationships through a harmonious balance between the scientific method andtraditional and indigenous knowledge.
Natalia Greene, director of GARN and vice-president of CEDENMA, and a key figure in the international movement for recognition of the rights of Mother Nature, says: “In the confluence of the climate and biodiversity crises, we need to use the global momentum of Rights of Nature legislation to bring more cases to court and to protect highly biodiverse areas. We celebrate the successful rulings of Los Cedros and the Intag Valley in Ecuador, but it is crucial that we work across disciplines and that we strengthen social resistance. The first ever forum on Ecological Forensics was a much-needed space to think strategically about the next steps for defending Nature’s rights, by bringing together a diversity of voices, from scientists, to lawyers, environmental educators, and indigenous leaders. We are committed to continue working together.”
The forum energised participants to form a network that continues to engage in the new transdisciplinary field of ‘Ecological Forensics’. Debates were brilliantly captured through live illustration by the artist SoZapato, whose work is featured on the documentary mentioned above. The forum closed with an Andean ceremony led by shaman Jaime Pichamba, in which everyone thanked Pachamama (Mother Earth) and sought strength and guidance to realise their efforts in defence of Nature’s rights.
*Ecoforensic is a community interest company set up by Professor of Conservation Ecology, Mika Peck, with funding from the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF), which builds on from previous projects with the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP). Through the paraecologist approach, Ecoforensic empowers communities through ecological knowledge exchange for the protection of natural ecosystems.