The Founder of IOI

Elisabeth Mann Borgese (24th April 1918 - 8th February 2002)

Elisabeth Mann Borgese
Elisabeth Mann Borgese


"In 1967 when Arvid Pardo, the great ambassador from

the tiny island of Malta, held his famous speech on

the oceans before the United Nations, our utopia

converged with reality: the world's oceans and seabeds

should become the common heritage of mankind, and,

in the interest of present and future generations,

should be fostered and administered exclusively to

peaceful ends."



Mann Borgese, E. (1999) 'Was kommt hinter dem Horizont?',

mare – Magazine of the Oceans, mareverlag GmbH & Co. OHG, No. 16, pp. 33.




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.  


Elisabeth 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.


“The International Ocean Institute was founded by Elisabeth Mann Borgese 45 years ago. In 1972, the world was completely different, but then again, in many respects it has not changed at all. …………Elisabeth’s main concern was the economic and scientific balance between both, between rich and poor. …………. It was very much down to Elisabeth’s personal commitment and the work of the  (IOI’s) “Pacem in Maribus” conferences that the International Law of the Sea could first be developed and then, over the course of the next years, implemented. ……. Elisabeth’s great foresight that no global peace would be possible without an equilibrium between rich and poor has proved true in a rather disgraceful manner. ……………. Elisabeth’s vision of a better, more peaceful world was of a general nature. In her view, the seas and oceans were ideally suited for her mission – because of their sheer size, their meaning for mankind and because they were not yet a matter of politics. The oceans are the ideal vehicle for this struggle.” 


Nikolaus Gelpke, Patron of IOI; excerpted from the IOI Annual report for 2016; published in 2017


“Forty years ago, the world was on the eve of a great new adventure.  Elisabeth Mann Borgese was at the centre of momentous events.  A new paradigm for the ocean was in construction - no longer mare liberum, no longer mare clausum - but the common heritage of mankind. Elisabeth’s love for the ocean was surpassed only by her commitment to peace and the well-being of humankind.  She saw in the making of the constitution of the ocean through the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III), the making of a new world order.  She believed that the ocean should in effect become a laboratory for the making of a new world order and that the international regime for the peaceful uses of ocean space and to  cultivate the ocean so that its power everywhere could safeguard precious life on earth.  Pacem in Terris was fused with Pacem in Maribus………………IOI will continue to do justice by all means possible to Elisabeth’s vision and passion and her love of the ocean wherein she saw a model for equity, justice and peace in service of our humanity.” 


Awni Behnam; Honorary President, IOI; Excerpt from the Opening Address on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of IOI; 2012


“Philosopher and theologian of the ocean, Elisabeth was a passionate campaigner for a world order founded on distributive justice based on a universal democracy of which ocean governance would be the prime and leading mover. For her, therefore, the doctrine of the common heritage, espoused with her good friend Arvid Pardo, encapsulated her belief that a philosophy of nature was humankind’s essential credo. Within that ‘religion’, the sea offered the best example for a set of ethical principles guiding humanity to the equitable use of natural resources. Fighting for the adoption of the UN Convention for the New Law of the Sea became for her a life-long vocation in which she spared herself no penance and no sacrifice.”


Salvino Busuttil, Former IOI Host Country Representative & IOI Governor Excerpted from “Elisabeth Mann Borgese, Philosopher and Theologian”; 

IOI Annual report for 2008; published in 2009



Some highlights



  • 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