27.01.2017 - Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission

Mario Ruivo: a life of service to the Ocean

©PUBLICO: Professor Mario Ruivo, 1927-2017.

Mario João de Oliveira Ruivo (b. 1927, Campo Maior, Portugal), biologist and policy-maker who served as Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO between 1980 and 1989, died early on Wednesday, 25 January, in Lisbon.

Professor Ruivo started his research in ocean sciences as a marine biologist but gradually moved to environmental policy-making. After a period of productive research on ecology and management of fish stocks in the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic, Professor Ruivo was appointed as national expert/delegate to various international organizations, and served as Director of the Division of Aquatic Resources and the Environment of the Department of Fisheries of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Professor Ruivo became one of the longest-serving and most charismatic Executive Secretaries the IOC has ever had, serving a highly accomplished nine-year tenure between 1980 and 1989.

Mario – as he is known and will be remembered to colleagues at IOC – made enormous contributions to promoting the place and role of the IOC as the cradle of ocean science in the United Nations system. He also established himself early on as a key advocate of the principles and rules of ocean governance embedded in the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. He participated in the full history of IOC from the very genesis of the Commission, attending the first IOC Assembly in 1961 as a member of the FAO delegation.

“IOC, as we know it now, is to a large extent, a result of Mario’s efforts to shape it, intellectually, and organizationally,” stated Vladimir Ryabinin, IOC Executive Secretary, in an email to the Permanent Delegation of Portugal to UNESCO. Speaking more personally about Professor Ruivo, Dr Ryabinin added, “he was a true and passionate believer in the noble cause of IOC, and a dear friend to many of us, united by IOC…I know I could always count on his wisdom and advice.”

At the time of his passing, Professor Ruivo was still serving as President of the Portuguese Committee for IOC and as Head of the Portuguese Delegation to IOC Governing Body meetings, positions he held for nearly two decades. He was still full of new ideas and projects, always ready to lend his experience to the cause of the Ocean and of the IOC.

The major IOC achievements under his leadership as Executive Secretary testify to his lifetime pursuit of a more harmonious relationship between society and the ocean through ocean science. Consolidation of ocean monitoring and observations systems for climate and environmental studies, the development of data management systems, and the establishment of the main IOC regional bodies are just some highlights of Professor Ruivo’s accomplishments.

IOC Chair, Professor Peter Haugan (Norway) issued a statement reflecting on the strength and continuity of Professor Ruivo’s legacy: “With the passing of Mario Ruivo, it feels like the world ocean community has lost its foremost pilot. The IOC has literally always been able to benefit from Mario’s guidance, wisdom, diplomacy and deep knowledge. From my very first participation in IOC meetings until the latest… he always contributed decisively with his perspectives and passion. He took initiatives. He was the one that I and many others would turn to for advice on how to best promote the development of science-informed ocean policies. He was number one. Let us try our best to honour his memory by realizing some of his visions.”

The long roster of Professor Ruivo international activities beyond the United Nations includes initiation of the International Year of the Ocean in 1998 and coordination of the Independent World Commission on the Oceans. In 2000, he helped launch the EurOcean Centre for Ocean Science and Technology, which he presided between 2002 and 2008. In 2015, the European Parliament honored Professor Ruivo with the prestigious European Citizen’s Prize, for his contribution to European cooperation and the promotion of common European values.

Professor Ruivo also had an active role in the Portuguese public sphere, notably in support of the country’s transition from authoritarian to democratic rule, working side-by-side with political personalities such as former Portuguese Prime-Minister and President, Mario Soares. Within the Portuguese government, Professor Ruivo served as Secretary of State for Fisheries (1974-1975), Minister of Foreign Affairs (1975), and Scientific Advisor of EXPO’98, responsible for giving the ocean the prime spot in this globally important event, which was equally central to the cultural life and urban development of Lisbon and Portugal. He received some of the highest Portuguese national distinctions, including the Grã-Cruz da Ordem do Mérito.

The IOC of UNESCO mourns the loss of a friend, colleague, and staunch defender. Professor Ruivo’s life of service to IOC is an example to all. It encourages Member States and staff to continue our pursuit of better scientific understanding of the ocean as a basis for sustainable development and health of our blue planet.

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