The Marine Biological Association

Promoting marine scientific excellence and representing the marine biological community since 1884

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Facilities for Researchers at the Marine Biological Association

The Citadel Hill laboratory in Plymouth is a unique location offering a range of facilities supporting wide range of marine biological sciences.  The Web pages provide some detail on the major facilities but for more information please contact us.

Seawater system

The MBA houses a state-of-the-art seawater, animal holding and experimental facility for marine biological research that complies with Home Office standards. There are two large semi-recirculating systems supplied by natural seawater via a permanent pipeline from Plymouth Sound. The capacity of the combined systems for high-quality seawater is 477,000 litres, with a combined underground reservoir space of 724 m3. There is a wide range of tanks for vertebrate and invertebrate husbandry and experimentation.

Currently the seawater laboratory covers an area of 492 m2 and holds upwards of 50 tanks ranging from small volume aquaria to large specialist holding tanks. The scientific areas supported by the systems all have piped seawater and fall into three main categories:

(1) The Research System comprises a large research room exposed to natural light and two smaller tank rooms with photoperiod control. These are supplied by chilled seawater from a 145,000 litre reservoir. Biological filtration is also available on this system. There are several very large tanks on this system, many fitted with computer-linked video observation for behavioural studies. There is also space devoted to close-culture tanks for breeding studies and supply of embryonic dogfish and cuttlefish. Small volume aquaria on wet benches are also available.

(2) The Aquarium System comprises a large research room supplied with unfiltered seawater from a 332,000 litre reservoir. The system is not temperature controlled and has photoperiod control. The room contains four large holding tanks, several wet benches with small volume aquaria, several medium sized holding tanks and facilities for running small, closed-system aquaria.

(3) Three constant temperature (CT) rooms cover a combined area of 40 m2 and are also fitted with photoperiod control. Wet benches connected to the re-circulating supply with flexible small-tank space for close-controlled research make up the seawater facilities within each of these rooms.

Research Vessels

The Marine Biological Association works with the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in operating two robust and versatile MCA Workboat research vessels, the Plymouth Quest and the MBA Sepia. The vessels undertake biological, chemical and physical sampling, trawling, hauling, dredging, towing, equipment deployment and oceanographic measurements.

The Plymouth Quest measures 21.5m in length and has an operational area of up to 60 miles from a safe haven. The Quest is capable of carrying up to 12 passengers for day work and has a cruise endurance of up to five days.

A boat at sea

The MBA research vessel Sepia

The MBA Sepia measures 15.4m in length, also with an operational area of up to 60 miles from a safe haven. Like the Plymouth Quest, the Sepia can accommodate 12 passengers and offers a spacious laboratory.

The MBA also has a smaller dory (Sagitta) for estuarine and river sampling.

For more information on any of the vessels and our work please contact Aisling Smith

Training and conference centre

Our available facilities have been extended and now include:

The MBA's resource centre

The Resource Centre.

Information on courses and training.

Contact us for availability, prices and further information: 01752 633336


People at computers

Microscopy course at the MBA

The lab is generously equipped for live cell imaging, with the following microscopy facilities:

  • A range of stereo and compound microscopes, including several fluorescence microscopes.
  • Fluorescence microscope equipped for micro-photometry and cooled CCD camera imaging.
  • Confocal and 2-photon microscopes, including:
    • a Bio-Rad 1024 confocal scanning laser on a a Nikon total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) system with multi-wavelength  excitation and emission and an EM-cooled CCD camera.
    • a Bio-Rad Radiance confocal system on a Nikon upright microscope, equipped with argon, HeNe and blue diode lasers providing, near UV, blue and green excitation.
    • a Zeiss LSM 510 confocal/multiphoton system with argon, and red and green HeNe confocal lasers, providing a range of excitation wavelengths. This system is also equipped with a Spectraphysics Mai-Tai tuneable IR laser providing 2-photon excitation across a range of wavelengths.
    • A Jeol 200CX transmission electron microscope and access to the University of Plymouth Electron Microscopy Centre with a comprehensive range of TEM , SEM and microanalytical instruments.


A comprehensive range of patch clamp, voltage clamp (single and 2-electrode) recording apparatus is available for use with bright field, fluorescence and confocal microscopy. Facilities are also available for single cell microinjection and laser microsurgery. There is also a Xenopus holding and oocyte microinjection and recording facility for heterologous expression of membrane transporters.

Molecular Biology

A barnacle larva through a microscope

Many research projects at Citadel Hill utilise molecular tools to study a wide range of organisms including viruses, bacteria, phytoplankton and fish.

DNA, RNA and Protein Purification
Quantitative PCR (SYBR Green, High Resolution Melt and probes up to 5-plex)
Liquid Handling Robot
Sample quantification (Nanodrop, spectrophotometers and Bioanylyser)

  • Gel documentation system
  • Plate readers
  • Spectrophotometers
  • Thermal cyclers
  • Bioanalyser
  • Liquid handling robot

For more information please contact the Laboratory Manager.

The Plymouth Culture Collection of Marine Algae

The Plymouth Algal Culture Collection is currently being incorporated into the research collection within the MBA.  Consequently, we will no longer be able to supply cultures or media to customers outside the organisation.  The Collection will, however, still be available to collaborating researchers.  For further details please email:

Time series data and data archiving

The MBA has conducted long-term monitoring surveys for scientific research since the Laboratory in Plymouth opened in 1888.

The MBA has ongoing monitoring time series that it contributes to the NERC -funded Western Channel Observatory, in collaboration with Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The principal MBA time series under this strategic programme which are relevant to the UK Marine Science Strategy objective of “Sustained long-term monitoring” are:

Zooplankton, larval fish & eggs

Since 1906, interruptions 1940-45 and 1987-2001, 2001 to present.

Stations E1, L5 and L4 using the Young Fish Trawl (YFT).

Adult demersal fish

Offshore: Since 1911. Twice monthly at L4 using the ‘Standard Haul’ otter trawl.

Inshore: First sampled in 1913. Twice monthly at inshore stations using an otter trawl.


Since 2003. Infauna collected monthly at L4 using Van Veen grabs.

Infauna and Epifauna (Agassiz trawls) twice yearly at stations A4-6-7, B3-4-5-6-7 and C3-4-5-6 (subset of stations from Holme, 1953).

Rocky Intertidal

Since 1950, interruption 1987-2000, ongoing since 2001.

Annual surveys of 25 sites in SW England (part of wider sampling, 400 UK sites).

For enquiries about access to data contact Professor David Sims (email:

Data Archive for benthic survey data of species and habitats, DASSH

DASSH is the UK Marine Data Archive Centre for benthic survey data of both species and habitats. DASSH provides digital archive facilities for benthic datasets and a digital repository for benthic images and video.

DASSH aims to safeguard data (past and future) and make that data available as a national information resource to support marine science and better stewardship of the marine environment. To that end, DASSH provides access to datasets via an on-line catalogue of both metadata and data via this Web site and the National Biodiversity Network (NBN).

DASSH is an accredited Data Archive Centre under the Marine Environmental Data Information Network (MEDIN).

For more information and to submit your data please contact:

Dan Lear (