On the 50th ANNIVERSARY of the IOI, 1972-2022, a Message from the Honorary President of IOI, Dr Awni Behnam

As we celebrate in this year the golden jubilee of the International Ocean Institute (IOI) we cannot but recall the legacy of IOI founder Elisabeth Mann Borgese who, together with Arvid Pardo, articulated the concept of the Ocean in areas beyond jurisdiction as common heritage of humankind. In 1972 it was their combined efforts and the support of others of good will that led to the convening of UNCLOS III.


Elisabeth led the call to embark on the negotiations at the conference for UNCLOS and while preparing for it, created at the invitation of Malta, a think tank she named the International Ocean Institute. The first IOI discussions centred around the articulation of what was to become the constitution of the Ocean - a binding universal law of the sea. Elisabeth saw in the emerging Constitution of the Law of the Sea the beginning of a new world order in the service of humanity and peace; she coined the term Pacem In Maribus (Peace in the Oceans) thus also laying the philosophical and ethical foundations of IOI.


Consequently, she brought under the umbrella of IOI the best and brightest minds: oceanographers, scientists, environmentalists, diplomats, lawyers, civil society, industrialists. In her wisdom and her outreach, she remained fully aware of the limits of political consensus, a consensus that, to be workable, must be infused in necessary pragmatism.


Fifty years beyond her initial sacrifices and vision, her legacy endures and grows from strength to strength. That conviction for equity and justice, for benefit sharing in the governance of the Ocean has endured as the hallmark of IOI. Over the five decades since, the IOI has evolved in addressing the global ocean community to seed a culture of responsibility and policies of reason to achieve an equitable and sustainable ocean relationship, a basis for a truly Blue Economy.


The IOI, as a knowledge-based and capacity-building institution, has matured over time to meet the progress and challenges in all core Ocean disciplines, but has kept faithful to the core values of its mission and strengthened its commitments through evolving pillars of training, education, publication and advocacy, building strong partnerships in multilateral cooperation.


Today we celebrate the nearly 2000 IOI Alumni worldwide and an active IOI presence in nearly 40 countries and regions. IOI annually delivers a Master degree in Ocean Governance and a global portfolio of training courses in collaboration with recognised universities and learning centres. Moreover, the IOI plays a principal role in promoting Ocean Literacy through partnership in the globally recognised science-based publications – the World Ocean Review Series – and, in celebration of its first fifty years, has recently launched the IOI Ocean Academy, aimed at delivering ocean knowledge to persons of all backgrounds and all interests via short, targeted online courses.


The IOI leadership has evolved and grown, and the torch is now in the hands of a younger generation who did not know the mortal Elisabeth but are ordained in her mission, vision and passion.


On this occasion much gratitude and appreciation are extended to the global and growing family of the IOI: Directors, Focal Points, Alumni, Secretariat and Governors, funders and partners of the IOI, past and present – not least the OSRF and the IOI Patron, Nikolas Gelpke - who have all believed in and supported the IOI through these first fifty years. 


Awni Behnam, Honorary President of IOI