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Michelle Bender

Legal Counsel

Michelle is a leading expert in the field of Earth law, specifically Rights of Nature (RoN), where she has helped draft RoN laws and policies worldwide, including in the United States, Panama, the Philippines and within international law and institutions. She is the founder and creator of 'Ocean Rights', which builds upon the RoN framework within the ocean policy seascape.

Michelle also specializes in sea otter conservation and marine mammal protection in the United States, and most recently, the growing threat of Deep-Sea mining. 

She serves on the Advisory Board (previously Executive Committee) for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and is a member of the IUCN's World Commission on Environmental Law. In 2018 she was named one of 15 Youth Ocean Leaders taking on the world internationally by the Sustainable Ocean Alliance. Michelle graduated Summa Cum Laude from Vermont Law School, where she earned a Master’s in Environmental Law and Policy and holds a B.S. in Biology with a Marine Emphasis from Western Washington University.

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Explored and presented ‘Opportunities for Aquariums to Address Plastic Pollution’.

Developed and coordinated comment letters regarding the recovery of the southern sea otter and threats to delisting.

Assisted with amicus brief preparation for successful federal court litigation on US Marine Mammal Protection Act public display criteria (a case featured in the documentary Born to be Free).

Coordinated and co-drafted a legal assessment on alternative legal pathways to address the threat of Deep-seabed mining.

Developed a guideline for the incorporation of Rights of Nature into marine protected area governance.


In collaboration with The Ocean Race and Nature’s Rights, launched the initiative towards a Universal Declaration of Ocean Rights in March 2022, and in 2023 identified as 1 of 5 gamechanger movements for the Ocean. 

Consultant with Nia Tero (Ocean Guardianship), Perkins Coie (cetaceans in captivity and marine sanctuaries) and Friends of the Sea Otter.


Contribution to Generation Ocean; Ocean Rights: A roadmap towards a liveable future; Amazon ebook; Guest Lectures at Vermont Law School, Western Washington University, University of Auckland and others


Michelle spends her free time outside, backpacking, hiking, and paddleboarding with her pomeranian and partner. She enjoys nature photography and mentoring young professionals.

Image by Tim Marshall
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