Leatherback Project: Sea Turtles Recognized for Their Legal Rights in Panama


Panama made a historic stride in marine conservation as its president signed a groundbreaking law in March, granting legal rights to sea turtles. This significant development, championed by Callie Veelenturf, a marine conservation biologist and founder of the Leatherback Project, represents a paradigm shift in protecting wildlife.

Unlike traditional wildlife protection laws which focus on benefiting humans, Panama’s law takes into account the needs of sea turtles. And emphasizes that humans need to respect their rights.

The legislation specifically grants sea turtles the right to live in an environment free from pollution and other detrimental impacts. It says that humans must stop behaviors that cause climate change, unregulated tourism, and coastal development.  And they cannot capture or cage sea turtles or remove them from their habitat.

What sets this law apart is that it specifically recognizes that sea turtles are living creatures with enforceable rights.

Nicholas Fromherz, an adjunct law professor and director of the alliance’s Latin American Program, noted the law’s specificity, which enables the enforcement of these rights.

Leatherback Project

Undergraduate students, guided by Callie Veelenturf, can often be found working through the night to excavate sea turtle nests. The Leatherback Project studies the eggs, assessed the hatching process, and check for any stranded hatchlings.