The Founder

Elisabeth Mann Borgese
Elisabeth Mann Borgese

Elisabeth Mann Borgese, born in Germany on 24th April 1918, was the fifth of six children of Katja Pringsheim and Thomas Mann. She emigrated to USA with her parents in 1938, married Giuseppe Antonio Borgese in 1939 and had two daughters.


Known worldwide as "The Mother of the Oceans", Elisabeth Mann Borgese dedicated all her life to the understanding of ocean matters, to the development of a constitution for the oceans and to the consideration of the oceans as a "great laboratory for the making of a new international order based on new forms of international cooperation and organisation, on a new economic theory, on a new philosophy."


She was a passionate campaigner for a world order founded on distributive justice and, therefore, on the doctrine of the common heritage, espoused with her good friend Arvid Pardo. To her, the sea offered the best laboratory for the application of a set of ethical principles guiding humanity to the equitable use of natural resources.  Before moving to Canada to take up the role of professor of political science and adjunct professor of law at Dalhousie University, she was a senior fellow at the Center for Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara, California. It was there that she launched her ocean project over forty years ago, which led to establishment of the Pacem in Maribus Conference series with PIM I in 1970 and the foundation of the International Ocean Institute in 1972.  


She was an active member of the Club of Rome and the World Academy of Arts and Sciences, and an associate member of the Third World Academy. She served as a consultant to UNEP, UNESCO, UNIDO, and the World Bank and her work was recognized with several prestigious honours. Professor Mann Borgese authored more than a dozen books and many research papers and editorials and was awarded several doctorates honoris causa.


Elisabeth Mann Borgese died on February 8th, 2002.


A number of distinguished personalities have written about Elisabeth Mann Borgese and her life’s work: 


“Elisabeth was a visionary, who expended enormous energy trying to convince politicians and academics around the world about the need for new models of ocean governance”

J. Guddal, F. Bailet, G. Kullenberg, WMO Bulletin, Vol. 52 No. 1


“Her contribution to the cause of the common heritage of mankind has been fundamental and unique”.

Hon Guido de Marco, President Emeritus of Malta


 “She managed to make a miracle of transforming perfect dreams into reality and gave us an example of how we all may try to put our ideas into life”.

Valery Eremeev, President of the Oceanological Centre of Ukraine


“She has done her best, she has run the full distance and she has kept the torch alight in the Foundations of the Ocean – Pacem in Maribus”.

Noel Brown, President of the Friends of UN


“She was a treasure, and her life becomes part of the “common heritage” of mankind”.

D. Krieger, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation


“Prof. Mann Borgese was a wonderful and a brilliant political scientist. She was one of the great environmental heroes, a true champion for the oceans”. 

Klaus Toepfer, former Executive Director of UNEP



  • Editor, Common Cause, University of Chicago Press, 1948-52
  • Senior Fellow, Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions, 1964-78; where she initiated ocean project; organized the first Pacem in Maribus Conference, Malta, 1970; published many papers on peace, disarmament, human rights and development, and the Law of the Sea.
  • Killam Senior Fellow, 1979; Dalhousie University
  • Professor of Political Science, 1980; Dalhousie University where she taught regular courses on the Law of the Sea and ocean affairs as well as a 10-week summer programme for mid-career civil servants from developing countries
  • Adjunct Professor of Law, 1996; Dalhousie University
  • Consultant to World Bank, UNIDO, and UNESCO
  • Chairperson, International Centre for Ocean Development 1987-92
  • Founder and Honorary Chairperson for life, International Ocean Institute
  • Founder Member Club of Rome


Doctorates honoris causa:

  • Mount St Vincent University, Halifax, Canada
  • Concordia University, Montreal, Canada
  • Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada
  • Yokohama City University, Japan
  • Constanta Ovidius University, Romania



  • Hohes Verdienstkreuz, Government of Austria
  • Order of Canada, Government of Canada
  • United Nations Sasakawa Prize for the Environment
  • Francis of Assisi Environment Prize
  • Friendship Prize, Government of China
  • Order of Colombia, Government of Colombia
  • Gold Medal Muenchen Leuchtet, City of Munich, Germany
  • Caird Medal, United Kingdom
  • Member of Honour, IUCN, The World Conservation Union
  • Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit, Germany



  • To Whom it may Concern, 1962
  • Ascent of Woman, 1964
  • The Language Barrier, 1967
  • The Ocean Regime, 1968
  • The Drama of the Ocean, 1976
  • Seafarm: the Story of Aquaculture, 1982
  • The Mines of Neptune, 1986
  • The Future of the Oceans: A Report to the Club of Rome, 1987
  • Chairworm and Supershark, 1994 (for children from 8 to 80)
  • Ocean Governance and the United Nations, 1995
  • Der unsterbliche Fisch (short stories), 1998
  • The Oceanic Circle: A Report to the Club of Rome, 1998
  • The International Sea-bed Authority: New Tasks, 1999
  • Wie Gottlieb Hauptmann die Todesstrafe abschaffte (short stories), 2001


Books edited:

  • Pacem in Maribus, 1971
  • The Tides of Change, 1974
  • Ocean Yearbook, 1980-2001 (17 volumes)
  • Ocean Frontiers, 1994