The making of an ocean commission: A celebration of IOC's 60th anniversary

In the aftermath of the Second World War, some countries advocated the sharing of oceanographic knowledge on a global scale. However, it was not until December 1960 that the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO – the first body responsible for strengthening intergovernmental co-operation in the marine sciences – was created.

Between 1959 and 1965, forty-five research vessels sailing under fourteen different flags explored the Indian Ocean. Atlases, maps and scientific studies resulting from this expedition revolutionized geological, geophysical and marine-biological knowledge of this ocean. The monsoon and its variations were better understood, and food resources and mineral deposits discovered. The expedition also enabled countries like India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Thailand to build or expand their marine science infrastructures. The International Indian Ocean Expedition (IIOE) was unique, and at the time, was the biggest ocean exploration ever launched.
Co-ordinating this unprecedented international research effort was the first major activity of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), which celebrates its sixtieth anniversary on 14 December 2020.
The journey towards the creation of the IOC had been a long one. Already, at the first session of the General Conference in November 1946, India had proposed the creation of an institute of oceanography and fisheries to study the Indian Ocean. However, the first political initiative to make UNESCO include marine science activities in its programme came from Japan. In 1952, the country presented a draft resolution with the purpose of engaging UNESCO to promote international co-operation on oceanography. This was done with the view to optimize the use of marine resources – fisheries, minerals and energy – and thereby “provide a basis for the peaceful coexistence of all mankind”. The proposal was well-received, but did not lead to any significant commitment of UNESCO’s resources. The breakthrough came at the next session of the General Conference, in 1954, when Japan again proposed that UNESCO should launch a marine sciences programme.

The International Geophysical Year (IGY), from July 1957 to December 1958, was an essential part of the dynamics that eventually led to the creation of the IOC.


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