The IOC - an overview

IOC Assembly buildingThe IOC is a community of 150 Member States that work together to share in the common and critical goal to observe, understand and manage the shared marine environment that unites us all. 

The IOC coordinates activities on behalf of (and funded by) its Member States and works with intergovernmental organisations and international partners. Activities are summarised at the IOC Biennial Assembly.

The IOC Medium-Term Strategy 2022 - 2029

The IOC's vision for 2022 – 2029 is to "bring together governments and science community in achieving the 'Ocean We Need for the Future We Want'". The Medium Term Strategy was endorsed at the 31st IOC Assembly. It incorporates four priorities:

  1. Global Priority Africa: The IOC will provide the science base for the development of the sustainable ocean economy in Africa as outlined in the African Union's Agenda 2063 and the 2050 Africa's Integrated Maritime Strategy.
  2. Global Priority of Gender Equality: The IOC will focus on ensuring that international science cooperation for peace and sustainability promotes equal representation and voice for women and men and that conditions for both women and men to be agents of mitigation, adaptation, resilience and sustainability are equally enabled.
  3. Small Island Developing States (SIDS): The IOC will continue to help build SIDS actions related to tsunami early warning systems, the development of marine scientific and technological capacity of SIDS, and enhancing cooperation to manage all aspects of the health of the ocean.
  4. Early Career Ocean Professionals: The IOC will actively engage talents and energy of early career ocean professionals and strive to offer them opportunities for professional development.
  5. Increased understanding of the value of the IOC work including its socio-economic benefits: To understand and demonstrate the full value of the IOC work, assessments of tangible value of ocean ecosystems and their delivered goods and services, can be sustainably utilised.

as well as five high level objectives that should be achieved as the IOC aspires to build and apply scientific knowledge:

  1. Healthy ocean and sustained ocean ecosystem services: Improving scientific understanding of ocean ecosystems, identifying robust indicators of their health, and understanding ecosystem vulnerability are vital for monitoring and predicting the ecosystem health and resilience.
  2. Effective warning systems and preparedness for tsunamis and other ocean-related hazards: Nations should be aware of coastal hazards and have access to necessary information for coastal planning, hazard mitigation, adaptation to climate change, and for safe operations at sea.
  3. Resilience to climate change and contribution to its mitigation: Many human development goals are threatened by climate change. Ocean is a key regulator of climate. Coordinated global and regional efforts are needed to comprehensively include the ocean dimension in our improved capacity to understand and predict climate change and its impacts on the ocean.
  4. Scientifically-founded services for the sustainable ocean economy: Sustainability of ocean economy relates to the long-term capacity of ocean ecosystems to support human activities. Maintaining this equilibrium requires ocean observations, fit-for-purpose data products and services, scientific assessments, and monitoring and forecasting of ocean ecosystem health.
  5. Foresight of emerging ocean science issues: Cutting-edge research, innovation, technological development, including in observations and in developing a global 'data and information ecosystem', should augment our capacity to anticipate emerging issues, inform policy making and advance timely solutions involving relevant stakeholders.

How the Strategy is organised

The Strategy is organized on a framework of six functions and all of these functions contribute in varying measures to the high-level objectives of the IOC Vision:

  • Ocean researchFoster ocean research to strengthen knowledge of ocean and coastal processes and human impacts upon them
  • Observing system/data managementMaintain, strengthen and integrate global ocean observing, data and information  systems.
  • Early warning and servicesDevelop early warning systems and preparedness to mitigate the risks of tsunamis and ocean-related hazards.
  • Assessment and Information for policy - Support assessment and information to improve the science-policy interface.
  • Sustainable management and governance - Enhance ocean governance through a shared knowledge base and improved  regional cooperation.
  • Capacity Development Develop the institutional capacity in all of the functions above, as a cross-cutting function.

These functions correspond broadly to existing and on-going IOC programmes, components of programmes and mechanisms of cooperation. Find out more on the Activities page.

How the IOC is Governed

IOC Assembly

The IOC Assembly comprises 150 Member States and establishes IOC-UNESCO's general policy and main lines of work. The Assembly meets every two years and its remit is to review the work of the Commission, the work of the member states and the secretariat, and formulate a common work plan for the coming two years.

IOC Executive Council

The Executive Council consists of up to 40 Member States and meets annually to review issues from on-going work to making plans for the IOC Assembly. 

The Member States of the IOC elect the new Officers (the Chairperson and five Vice-Chairpersons) and the Members of the Executive Council.

Members of Executive Council (2021)

  • Group I: Canada, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the United States of America
  • Group II: Bulgaria, Russian Federation
  • Group III: Chile, Colombia, Grenada, Panama, Peru, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Uruguay
  • Group IV: Australia, China, India, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Japan, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Thailand, Turkmenistan
  • Group V: Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Libya, Saudia Arabia, South Africa


Image of a map of the world

UN Regional Groups. Image courtesy of Lokal_Profil under this Creative Commons licence.

The IOC is the only organization with the ability to ensure that developing countries have the scientific capacity needed to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14 to conserve and sustainably use their ocean and marine resources.

Peter M. Haugan, Former Chair


Officers of the Commission (2021):


Mr Ariel Hernán Troisi (Argentina)


Ms Marie-Alexandrine Sicre (France), Group I

Mr Alexander Frolov (Russian Federation), Group II

Mr Frederico Antonio Saraiva Nogueira (Brazil), Group III

Mr Srinivasa Kumar Tummala (India), Group IV

Mr Karim Hilmi (Morocco), Group V

The above are supported by the Secretariat, based at the IOC Head Office in Paris, led by Dr Vladimir Ryabinin, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and Assistant Director General of UNESCO.

IOC Sub-Commissions, Committees, Programme and Project Offices

1. France (Paris HQ, Brest)
2. Belgium (Ostend)
3. Italy (Venice)
4. Denmark (Copenhagen)
5. Australia (Perth)
6. Colombia (Cartagena de Indias)
7. Thailand (Bangkok)
8. Kenya (Nairobi)
9. Samoa (Apia)
10. Indonesia (Jakarta)

Regional Sub-Commissions

IOC Sub-Commission for Africa and the Adjacent Island States (IOCAFRICA)

IOC Sub-Commission for the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions (IOCARIBE)

IOC Sub-Commission for the Western Pacific (WESTPAC)

Regional Committees

IOC Regional Committee for the Central Indian Ocean (IOCINDIO)

Regional Programme Offices

Perth Regional Programme Office

Project Offices

Caribbean Tsunami Information Center CTIC

IOC Science and Communication Centre on Harmful Algae / Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Project Office

International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE) Project Office

Indian Ocean Tsunami Information Centre (IOTIC)

Ocean Data and Information Network for Africa (ODINAfrica)

Omani National Multi-Hazard Early Warning System (NMHEWS)

Strengthening Haitian Early Warning Services for Coastal Hazards


November 2021: UNESCO publishes a new history of international cooperation in ocean science
For a historical perspective of the IOC's role in promoting international cooperation, training and mutual assistance, please see the free on-line book by Gunnar Kullenberg, former Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO (1989 to 1998).