The Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) began as a laboratory of the Seafood Division of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources  The first lab was a small green building on pilings in Heron Bay. It was there that Drs. Everett Bishop and Ralph Chermock first began exposing students from the University of Alabama (UA) to the gulf’s remarkable resources in 1960.  Their efforts caught the attention of the Director of the University of Alabama Extension campus in Mobile, Dr. Fred Whiddon. The work eventually led the University of Alabama to issue a bond in 1963 that resulted in the construction of a modern marine laboratory on Dauphin Island.

Point Aux Pines, Bayou La Batre

1971        MESC created. Dr. C. Everett Brett named the first director.

1971        Point aux Pines destroyed by electrical fire during Christmas break

1972        MESC acquires former U.S. Air Force Radar Base on the east end of Dauphin Island. Facility named the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. (Click here to learn more about the history of The Sea Lab campus on Dauphin Island)

The research programs at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab were stimulated by the early hiring of two remarkable individuals. Dr. Will Schroeder, oceanographer and Diving Safety Officer, and Dr. Tom Hopkins, who moved from the University of West Florida where he served as Chair of the Biology Department. Schroeder and Hopkins began the diving program that lasts today. Learn more about the Scientific Diving Program by clicking here.

1972       Dr. Bob Shipp named Acting Director

1975       Discovery Hall Project initiated by Tommy Walker and Fred Rees with the support of Dr. George Crozier petitioning the Board of Directors to approve interaction with local high schools.

1977       Dr. George Crozier named Executive Director

Judy Stout, after writing two dissertations and becoming the leading expert on the Gulf Coast emergent salt marshes, was given the task of developing the academic programs at the DISL. She successfully created the year-round activities that became the foundation for the MESC's instructional programs. Her performance eventually led to her selection as Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs at the University of South Alabama. 

1979       Hurricane Frederic cut Dauphin Island off from the mainland. Access was by ferry or the DISL's boats until the new bridge was completed in 1982. Insurance and hurricane relief provided much-needed funding for improvements. 


1980       DISL Summer Session held at Spring Hill College in Mobile

1986       Dr. Ken Heck hired from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia as Research Coordinator with a mission to provide the foundation of a research program that was less dependent on member universities.

1994       Education Center opens to the public to serve as an introduction to the concept of The Estuarium.

With the overwhelming success of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab's Education Center, a small facility in the converted Army Radome on campus, Drs. Crozier and Dindo launched a campaign to construct a larger public outreach facility. 

1995       First Discovery Day. Mobil Exploration sponsored the day offering a hands-on experience while providing a closer look at Alabama's energy industry.

1998       The Estuarium opens to the public to highlight the four key habitats of the area: the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, Mobile Bay, the Barrier Islands, and the Gulf of Mexico.

2006       Second story addition added to Marine Science Hall. New addition named Wiese Hall in honor of a long-time supporter of the Marine Science Program at the University of South  Alabama.

2009       Shelby Center and Mesocosm opened

2010       DISL acquires Research Vessel Alabama Discovery to replace the A.E. Verrill

Technology now allows graduate students to take classes on their home campus without leaving Dauphin Island. Students throughout the state also take advantage of classes offered by both University Programs and Discovery Hall Programs. 

2013      Estuarium opens Rays of the Bay tank on the outside deck.  

2015      Marine Mammal Research Center opened. Focuses on data collection and research of marine mammals including manatees, dolphins, and whales. 

2017      Estuarium opens a new exhibit hall, Windows to the Sea. The technology-focused area includes a 500-gallon tank, interactive video wall, Sounds of the Sea, and educator created games.