Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom

Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom
Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom
Established 1884
Field of Research Marine science
Professor Colin Brownlee (Director)
Address The Laboratory, Citadel Hill, PL1 2PB
Location Plymouth
Telephone 01752 633207

The Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom is a learned society with a scientific laboratory that undertakes research in marine biology.[1] The organisation was founded in 1884 and has been based in Plymouth since the laboratory was opened in June 1888. It has a world-leading reputation for marine biological research, with some eleven Nobel prizewinners having undertaken research there. For example, the discovery of the mechanism of nerve impulses (action potentials) in animals was made at the Laboratory in Plymouth by Sir Alan Lloyd Hodgkin and Sir Andrew Huxley, work for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1963. It publishes the Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom.[2]


Origins and foundation

In 1866 the Royal Commission on the Sea Fisheries, which included among its officers Professor Thomas Henry Huxley, had reported that fears of over-exploitation of the sea fisheries were unfounded.[3] They recommended removing existing laws regulating fishing grounds and closed seasons. However, the increase in the size and number of fishing vessels was causing widespread concern, and there were reports from all around the UK coasts about the scarcity of particular fish. This concern was expressed at the International Fisheries Exhibition in London in 1883, a conference called to discuss the commercial and scientific aspects of the fishing industry, and which was attended by many leading scientists of the day. Nevertheless, in his opening address,[4] Huxley discounted reports of fish scarcities and repeated the views of the Royal Commission of 1866. He stated that with existing methods of fishing, it was inconceivable that the great sea fisheries, such as those for cod (Gadus morhua), herring (Clupea harengus) and mackerel (Scomber scombrus), could ever be exhausted.

Many of the representatives of science and commerce present had different views to Huxley. Their views were put forward by E. Ray Lankester, who summed up the scientific contributions in an essay on what we would now call ecology. He pointed out that "it is a mistake to suppose that the place of fish removed from a particular fishing ground is immediately taken by some of the grand total of fish, which are so numerous in comparison with man's depredations as to make his operations in this respect insignificant...there is on the contrary evidence that shoal fish, like herrings, mackerel and pilchard (Sardina pilchardus), and ground-fish, such as soles and other flat-fishes, are really localised. If man removes a large proportion of these fish from the areas which they inhabit, the natural balance is upset and chiefly in so far as the production of young fish is concerned."[5] During this masterly address he went on to develop this theme and concluded with an appeal for the formation of a society to foster the study of marine life, both for its scientific interest and because of the need to know more about the life histories and habitats of food fishes. Professor Lankester envisaged that such a society would contruct a laboratory close to the coast, with the building containing aquaria and apparatus for the circulation of seawater and, most importantly, laboratory accommodation for scientists. The appeal was answered by a group of eminent scientists, who resolved to form a society and build a laboratory on the British coast.


The Committee formed at the International Fisheries Exhibition 1883 resolved to take action to establish a British Marine Laboratory, an initiative that ultimately led to the formation of the Marine Biological Association and building of the Laboratory in Plymouth. They were:

The Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom was formed at a meeting held in the rooms of the Royal Society in London on 31st March 1884. All but two of the signatories of the resolution of 1883 were present, together with some other scientists. By this time Professor Huxley had been persuaded to give his support and was elected as the first President of the Association, with Ray Lankester as Honorary Secretary.

There have been twelve Directors of the Marine Biological Association since its foundation:

  • 1884–1888: Walter Heape FRS
  • 1888–1890: Gilbert C. Bourne FRS
  • 1890–1892: William L. Calderwood
  • 1892–1894: Edward J. Bles
  • 1894–1936: Edgar J. Allen FRS
  • 1936–1945: Stanley W. Kemp FRS
  • 1945–1965: Sir Frederick S. Russell FRS
  • 1965–1974: Sir J. Eric Smith FRS
  • 1974–1987: Sir Eric J. Denton FRS
  • 1987–1999: Michael Whitfield
  • 1999–2007: Stephen J. Hawkins
  • 2007– : Colin Brownlee


  1. ^ A. J. Southward & E. K. Roberts (1987). "One hundred years of marine research at Plymouth". Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 67 (3): 465–506. doi:10.1017/S0025315400027259. 
  2. ^ "About the MBA". Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. Retrieved February 25, 2009. 
  3. ^ J. Caird, T. H. Huxley & G. S. Lefevre (1866) Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Enquire into the Sea Fisheries of the United Kingdom. London HMSO, Vol. I, 108 pp.
  4. ^ T. H. Huxley (1884) Inaugural address. International Fisheries Exhibition, 1883, Literature, 4, 1-19.
  5. ^ E. R. Lankester (1884) The scientific results of the exhibition. International Fisheries Exhibition, 1883, Literature, 4, 443-446.

External Links

Website of the Marine Biological Association of the UK.

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