Our History

The Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) began as a laboratory of the Seafood Division of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

First Dauphin Island Sea Lab home at Point Aux Pines

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 of Mexico’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.

Dauphin Island Sea Lab Campus circa 1975

1971 MESC created by Alabama Legislature, 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. The facility is named the Dauphin Island Sea Lab.

tudents learn to use seine nets during DISL class, circa 1975

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

1972 MESC enters into the nation’s first regional Sea Grant Program with the Universities” Marine Center of Mississippi. George Crozier is the Acting Associate Director of the two-state program with a Sea Grant Office at the Sea Lab.

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 a 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.

2001 DISL assumes administrative sponsorship of the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program.

2006 Marine Science Hall addition named Wiese Hall in honor of long-time supporter of the Marine Science Program at the University of South Alabama.

2008 Dr. Scott Quackenbush named Executive Director, and Dr. Crozier returns as Executive Director in late 2008 as a result of Dr. Quackenbush’s sudden passing.

2009 The Shelby Center for Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management and Mesocosm completed.

2010 Alabama Center for Ecological Resilience formed in response to Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

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

2011 Dr. John Valentine named Executive Director.

2011 Marine Mammal Research Program begins.

2012 DISL Foundation hosts the first Marine Environmental Awards Luncheon.

2013 The Estuarium opens the geothermal Rays of the Bay exhibit.

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.

2018 DISL creates a Development Office to assist the DISL Foundation with fundraising activities.

2019 The Alabama Center of Excellence was officially announced by the U.S. Treasury and ADCNR.

2019 DISL Foundation awards first Jenny Cook Memorial Scholarship.

2020 DISL graduate student dorm, Albatross, and portions of Marine Science Hall impacted by more than $3.5 million indamages from Hurricane Sally.

2021 DISL marks its 50th anniversary.