By Anne-Flore Laloë
The Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom (MBA) is a British learned society which works in the field of the marine biological sciences. It was founded in 1884; its original objectives were to gain a better understanding of fish populations, especially in relation to fishing and fears of over-exploitation of the seas, and to study the physiology of invertebrate animals. The MBA’s first President was Thomas H. Huxley, and E. Ray Lankester acted at the Association’s Honorary Secretary. Today, the MBA’s objectives have been widened and the Association more generally seeks to “promote scientific research into all aspects of life in the sea, including the environment on which it depends, and to disseminate to the public the knowledge gained.”
The MBA opened in 1888 on Plymouth Hoe, where it is still located in the original Laboratory, though the building has been expanded and modernized. The choice of location for the MBA was very important, as one of the Laboratory’s requirements was to be able to pump sea-water. This was achieved via a well which is situated on the Hoe’s foreshore, beneath the Laboratory. From the beginning, the MBA opened its tank rooms to the public and it continued to do so until 1998, when the collection was transferred to the new National Marine Aquarium nearby.
Scientific staff at the MBA have always been at the forefront of the study of the marine environment. Alongside resident scientific staff, the MBA has always hosted and collaborated with visiting researchers. Seven Nobel laureates have conducted research there, in fields including medicine, physiology and chemistry. The MBA’s current research programme includes work on cell physiology, behavioural ecology, climate change and marine diversity. The MBA works with many national and international universities to train the next generation of marine biologists and support the marine biological community.
The MBA has published a scientific journal, the Journal of the Marine Biological Association, since 1887. In its current format, this is a peer-reviewed, international science journal covering all aspects of marine biology.
The MBA is the custodian of the collections of the National Marine Biological Library (NMBL), which was founded in 1887 to support the research work of the Association. Today, the NMBL is constituted of the MBA’s library and archive collections, and its staff provide information services to support research. The collections are one of the world’s largest in the field; they comprise an up-to-date selection of books and journals, and a sizeable historical collection which includes expedition reports from all over the world, old books (dating back to 1554), conference proceedings and the personal libraries of several past MBA researchers. The library also holds long runs of periodicals and grey literature from all over the world. The MBA Archive Collection constitutes a unique resource which documents not only the MBA’s institutional history, but also the evolution of the marine biological sciences in Great Britain and beyond. Items in the archives include personal papers and letters, documents, photographs, drawings, lantern slides and microscope slides.
The MBA also has a collection of scientific instruments and objects. The collection includes one of only five extant Levin-Wyman ergometers (invented at the MBA) which measure work done by muscles, and a sledge, skis poles and an ice axe used by MBA biologist E. W. Nelson on the 1910-1913 British Antarctic Expedition (Terra Nova). These instruments and objects can often be linked to specific scientific research or MBA researchers, and to material held in the MBA Archive Collection. The history of the objects and the science which they enabled is significant within the context of the history of marine biology and biological sciences more generally.
The Marine Biological Association of the UK
Plymouth PL1 2PB
How to visit:
The MBA is primarily a membership organisation, and access to the NMBL is a benefit of membership. Alternatively, one-off access can be specially arranged through the MBA Membership Secretary ([email protected]). Please see here for further information: http://www.mba.ac.uk/NMBL/about_us/services.htm.
From Plymouth’s mainline station or the city centre, follow signs to Plymouth Hoe. The MBA is located on the eastern side of the Hoe, near the Royal Citadel.
Allen, E.J. and Harvey, H.W. (1928) “The Laboratory of The Marine Biological Association at Plymouth.” Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 15 (3): 735-752. (Available for download here: <http://sabella.mba.ac.uk/603/01/The_laboratory_of_The_Marine_Biological_Association_at_Plymouth.pdf)
Heape, W. (1887) “Description of the laboratory of the Marine Biological Association at Plymouth.” Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 1 (Old Series): 96-104. (Available for download here: http://sabella.mba.ac.uk/285/01/Description_of_the_laboratory_of_the_Marine_Biological_Association_at_Plymouth.pdf)
Southward, A.J. and Roberts, E.K. (1984)”The Marine Biological Association 1884-1984: One hundred years of marine research” Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, 116: 155-199. (This article was also published as an Occasional Publication of the MBA and is available here: http://www.mba.ac.uk/NMBL/publications/occpub/occasionalpub3.htm.)
Note: Revised article by Anne-Flore Laloe. Original article by Joan Price.