Story | 08 Sep, 2020

The passing of Dr Biliana Cicin-Sain, international leader for integrated coastal and ocean governance

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

It is with great personal sadness that we announce the death of Dr. Biliana Cicin-Sain. Our beloved leader and friend passed away last Tuesday, 1 September 2020 as a result of lung cancer. 

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Photo: Vanessa Knecht

Biliana was a leader in the field of integrated coastal and ocean governance, both in the United States and around the world, and has forged international collaboration among various sectors of the international oceans community to advance the global oceans agenda. She was also a passionate leader in promoting the role of oceans in climate change mitigation and adaptation through multi-stakeholder initiatives involving governments, international agencies, NGOs, scientific institutions, private sector, and subnational authorities especially in the UNFCCC, the UN Ocean Conference, and in other United Nations fora.

Biliana received her doctoral degree in political science from UCLA and completed postdoctoral training at Harvard University. In addition to her roles as director of the Gerard J. Mangone Center for Marine Policy and professor of Marine Policy at the University of Delaware’s College of Earth and Marine Studies, she was editor-in-chief of the international journal Ocean & Coastal Management. She was also a professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations and in the School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Delaware.

Biliana was the organizer, co-chair and head of secretariat of the Global Ocean Forum, initially mobilized in 2001 to place issues related to oceans, coasts and island states on the agenda of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development and to agree on a detailed set of global ocean targets and timelines. With Biliana’s farseeing direction, the Global Ocean Forum has: 

  1. Filled an important gap in tracking progress achieved (or lack thereof) on major ocean-related goals, bringing together national and international data on the range of issues related to oceans, especially regarding the cross-cutting goals (integrated, ecosystem-based management) through the Global Oceans Conferences and other multi-stakeholder meetings;
  2. Stimulated the achievement of strong ocean outcomes at major global level political fora, including the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) and the 2012 Rio+20 Conference;
  3. Built an inclusive and mutually-supportive global network of ocean policy leaders from 110 countries, facilitating cross-sectoral linkages, informal diplomacy, and goodwill among the ocean community;
  4. Mobilized high-level political attention on critical ocean and climate issues in the context of the UN climate negotiations, serving to heighten political attention on previously-ignored ocean issues in this important global forum; and 
  5. Fostered some of the first cross-sectoral dialogue on the emerging issue of areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ), which continues to foster discussion and analysis on current developments as well as build capacity among various actors in this issue area. The GOF is actively involved in a supportive role as part of civil society, in the Intergovernmental Conference on an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ).

Biliana’s work on ocean management and governance has been recognized through various awards, including 2019 Prince Albert I of Monaco Grand Prize of Marine Sciences; 2018 Pioneer of the High Seas, French National Sea Center, France; 2017 Champion of the Ocean award, Monmouth University; 2010 Laureate for the Elizabeth Haub Award for Environmental Diplomacy; 2010 honorary doctorate in maritime law by Korea Maritime University; 2007 US Coastal Zone Foundation Award; 2007 Elizabeth Mann Borgese Meerespreis (Prize of the Sea), Germany; 2002 co-recipient of the Ocean and Coastal Stewardship Award (US).

On a personal level, we all remember Biliana’s love for dancing, travel, and good wine. She leaves behind beloved daughter Vanessa, son-in-law Ryan, and grand-daughter Pippa. The GOF family will never be the same without her warm camaraderie and faithful friendship.

Her family has created a website ( where you can express your thoughts and wishes for Biliana and her family. This site will also serve as the platform for the planning of a future event to celebrate Biliana’s life, work, and global leadership as soon as current circumstances related to the Covid pandemic have improved.

(This obituary was very kindly provided by Vanessa C.S. Knecht and the Board of Directors of the Global Ocean Forum, whose words are gratefully echoed by all in IUCN who knew Biliana)