By Joan Price
Out of date
This article has been superseded by a more up-to-date version at http://www.bshs.org.uk/travel-guide/marine-biological-association-plymouth-england
The Marine Biological Association is one of the oldest learned institutions west of Bristol. Its laboratories are tucked away in a corner of the Royal Citadel on the eastern end of Plymouth Hoe. Founded in 1884, the MBA is one of the UK’s leading research institutes. Its building has spectacular views of Plymouth Sound and shares many features with the even more illustrious laboratory in Naples. The association was set up to study living marine live, both out of scientific interest and to learn about habits and population of fished fish. Much of the latter work has gone to other laboratories. Their aquarium is now part of the nearby National Marine Aquarium, which is a big visitor attraction. In addition to their own work, the laboratories always attract visiting research workers, including 13 Nobel Prize winners and 170 Fellows of the Royal Society. Some of these come from other disciplines, particularly physiology. From its inception, the association has always been forward thinking: providing Easter courses for university students, offering members one week’s laboratory space per annum free, and employing some early women scientists. In 1967 their work was focussed on the Torrey Canyon oil spill. They have monitored pollution and plankton for many years and have always had a research vessel.
Their library is probably the most complete in this country in its coverage of marine biology and oceanography. As well as academic journals and special collections, it also contains the personal libraries of several eminent members. Visiting research workers have donated bound reprints of their work. As a result their earliest book in the library dates from 1554, they have a complete set of Nature and their records of the British Association go back to 1864. They have many bound volumes of many expedition reports, including some to the Antarctic and others covering the marine biology of specific areas of the world. They also hold considerable quantities of ‘grey’ papers, which have not been published.
The NMBL also has a large amount of archival material which is on a database and has been catalogued in three sections:
- Institutional papers of the MBA and the Plymouth Laboratory
- Personal and scientific documents of 50 staff and researchers with close links
- The correspondence of E.T.Browne from 1892-1937- for its intrinsic interest and to test the ability of the database.
Their material includes watercolours, early and aerial photographs, coloured glass slides and charts. Most interest is in their early fish records and their long term monitoring.
Directions: Please contact the librarian before a visit if you are not already a member. Membership of the MBA cost from £30 /annum. A pedestrian walkway leads from Plymouth’s mainline station to the Hoe. If travelling by road, follow signs to the City Centre until you see signs for Plymouth Hoe. Drive up past the Citadel and the entrance road is on the left just as you see the sea.
Address: The Laboratory, Citadel Hill, PLYMOUTH PL1 2PB United Kingdom