VIMS 75th Anniversary

Help us celebrate our 75th anniversary by exploring milestones in the history of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Chesapeake Bay, and the coastal ocean.

1800-10-24 08:11:53

Pristine Bay

Nearly continuous forest cover, widespread fringing marshes and wetlands, and an abundance of oysters and other filter feeders equate to a clean and clear bay waters.

1850-02-04 03:33:04

Technological Change

Industrialization begins. New forms of vessels and gear boost seafood catches. By the mid-1880s annual oyster harvests top 20 million bushels.

1880-01-01 03:30:08

Oyster Harvests Peak

Yearly oyster harvests soar to 20 million bushels. Water pollution by raw sewage and industrial wastewater increases. Concerns surface about long-term human impacts on Bay fisheries.

1892-01-01 07:11:14

Baylor Grounds

Landmark survey by Lt. James Baylor delineates the bounds of Virginia's naturally productive oyster beds. Watermen retain the opportunity to harvest naturally-growing shellfish from these "Baylor Grounds." VIMS scientists have since conducted several projects to refine and enhance this survey.

1900-01-01 10:04:08

Shellfish Harvests Decline

Shellfish harvests decline as steam-powered vessels and trains expand markets for Chesapeake seafood.

1900-08-10 00:18:39

People & Pollution

Human sewage seriously pollutes Bay waterways. People blame tainted oysters and water for outbreaks of food poisoning and typhoid. Eelgrass beds start to thin.

1905-08-11 15:08:57

Sturgeon Decline

This clipping from the August 11, 1905 issue of the Daily Press reports on a waterman's catch of a 250-pound sturgeon. The article notes that sturgeon were "plentiful in the river 20 years ago, but are rather scarce now."

1925-11-09 14:51:59

Early Collaboration

William & Mary Professor Donald W. Davis contacts Richard Armstrong, a Hampton businessman, to discuss "the possibility of cooperation between the State Seafood Growers and Dealers and the College."

1930-10-24 08:11:53

Davis envisions VIMS

W&M Biology Professor Donald W. Davis sets forth his vision for a marine lab in Virginia: Davis, D. W. 1930. How the college can aid the oyster industries. Science 72: 413-416.

1933-08-23 08:11:53

"Storm King" Hurricane

This late August hurricane--the storm of the 19th century for Tidewater Virginia--caused wind damage and flooding throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed and dealt a severe blow to seagrasses in Virginia's seaside bays.

1940-07-06 15:00:52

VIMS is established

VIMS' predecessor, the Virginia Fisheries Laboratory, officially opens its doors on July 6, 1940 in Yorktown. Funding is provided by the College of William & Mary, the Virginia Commission of Fisheries, and the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries.

1940-09-01 15:00:52

Science for the Bay

Scientists with the Virginia Fisheries Laboratory launch fundamental research on Bay oysters, clams, finfish, and blue crabs, plus studies of the Bay’s physical and chemical features.

1943-09-01 15:00:52

First Master’s Degree

W&M’s new graduate program in aquatic science confers its first Master’s degree. Lab scientists guide students in lab and field research.

1945-11-17 23:15:25

Post-war Development

Suburbs develop around Bay towns and cities. Increasing use of fertilizers and pesticides worsens water pollution.

1947-12-16 04:55:08

Branching Out

Scientists at the Virginia Fisheries Lab consult and teach courses at the Chesapeake Biological Institute. Research on finfish and blue crabs expands.

1949-01-01 13:35:07

Dermo Appears

The oyster disease Dermo is discovered in Chesapeake Bay.

1950-01-01 14:16:39

Wetlands in Trouble

Chesapeake Bay wetlands are increasingly filled in for development

1950-09-30 09:52:10

From Yorktown to Gloucester Point

The Virginia Fisheries Laboratory (VFL) relocates to Gloucester Point and 6,400 sf Maury Hall, named for Mathew Fontaine Maury, the “Father of Modern Oceanography.” Maury Hall still bears the “VFL” inscription above its south-facing door. It now houses faculty offices and Virginia Sea Grant.

1955-09-01 15:00:52

Fish & Crab Surveys

VIMS initiates juvenile fish and blue crab surveys in Chesapeake Bay. These key fishery management tools continue today, providing the data needed to sustainably manage the fish and shellfish people like to catch and eat.

1960-01-01 14:16:39

MSX Appears

This disease was first documented in 1957 in Delaware Bay where it caused massive oyster mortalities. It appeared in lower Chesapeake Bay two years later. At that time the disease agent was given the acronym MSX for multinucleated sphere X (unknown). It is now known as Haplosporidium nelsoni.

1960-03-14 06:59:58

Cloudy Waters

Water quality deteriorates further as development fills in wetlands and industrial chemicals contaminate waterways. Damaged seagrass beds appear.

1960-03-31 14:36:13

Brooke Hall

Brooke Hall, initially called the Annex, provides new lab space, classrooms, and offices. It is named after John Mercer Brooke, a U.S. Naval Commander who conducted marine surveys from California to China and invented a deep-sea sounding apparatus. Brooke also served as Chief of Ordinance and Hydrotherapy for the Confederate Navy and designed the iron class Merrimac.

1961-09-01 15:00:52

School of Marine Science

William & Mary reorganizes programs in “aquatic biology” and creates the School of Marine Science (SMS).

1962-07-24 09:23:11

Davis Hall

Davis Hall adds nearly 4,000 square feet for microbiology research. It is named after Dr. Donald Walton Davis, the W&M Biology Professor who founded VIMS.

1962-08-22 17:46:08

Director William J. Hargis, Jr.

Dr. William Jennings Hargis Jr., begins as Director of the Institute after directing VIMS' predecessor, the Virginia Fisheries Laboratory, from 1959-61. He is instrumental in transforming VIMS into its modern guise as one of the nation's largest research and education facilities focusing on coastal ocean and estuarine science.

1962-09-01 15:00:52


The General Assembly renames the Virginia Fisheries Laboratory as the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, reconstitutes it as an independent agency; and provides for continued educational offerings in Marine Science by permitting affiliation with William & Mary and other accredited institutions of higher learning.

1962-10-08 07:11:23

Eastern Shore Laboratory

The Eastern Shore Laboratory opens at Wachapreague. Shellfish aquaculture soon becomes a major focus.

1966-09-30 05:26:07

Federal Influence

VIMS advises Stratton Commission planning on coastal initiatives. Institute scientists help mold the National Sea Grant and Coastal Zone programs.

1968-01-31 04:40:37

Marine Advisory Services

The Marine Advisory Services program is established at VIMS with funding from the Commonwealth and the federal government through the Virginia Sea Grant program. MAS staff contribute a major part of the Institute's efforts to advise the Commonwealth on marine-resource issues.

1968-10-04 20:54:36

First Doctoral Degree

The College of William & Mary's School of Marine Science at VIMS grants its first doctoral degree.

1969-03-14 07:48:15

National Environmental Policy Act

Establishes national policy for the environment, establishes Council on Environmental Quality.

1969-10-04 15:00:52

Byrd Hall

This 21,000 sq. ft. building contains underground radioactivity labs, a computer console, an explosive handling chamber, chemical labs, and space for a sound laboratory along with classrooms and offices. Byrd Hall is named in honor of Virginia’s famed polar explorer, Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd.

1970-03-27 16:49:04

Franklin Hall

This 13,188 sf building houses VIMS' Physical Sciences Department, as well as staff in the Field Support Center.

1970-04-16 15:40:26

Policy Impacts

Institute scientists begin serving on regional resource policy and management groups. VIMS studies provide the scientific foundation for the Virginia Wetlands Act of 1972.

1972-01-06 19:11:18

Marine Mammal Protection Act

Establishes a Marine Mammal Commission to ensure marine mammals maintain healthy populations.

1972-01-06 19:11:18

Clean Water Act

Provides federal financial assistance and authorizes municipal sewage treatment plant construction facilities. Involves regulato- ry requirements that apply to industry and municipal dischargers. Sets pollution and water quality standards. Addresses oil and hazardous substance liability.

1972-01-06 19:11:18

Coastal Zone Management Act

Authorizes federal grants to help states develop and implement comprehensive plans to help manage and conserve coastal waters.

1972-06-19 05:52:40

Tropical Storm Agnes

Storm brings record rains to the Chesapeake Bay watershed, with drastic effects on seagrasses and other Bay organisms and habitats.

1973-01-06 19:11:18

Endangered Species Act

Conserves endangered species and threatened species of fish, wildlife and plants and the habitats where they live. Establishes prohibiting taking of listed species to ensure their safety.

1973-10-08 07:11:23

Shark Survey Begins

The VIMS Shark Survey, established in 1973 by Professor Jack Musick, stands as the longest-running fishery-independent study of shark populations in the world. It has brought global attention to significant declines in shark populations due to overfishing, and led to the first U.S. management plan for sharks, in 1993.

1975-01-01 03:30:08


Discharge of the pesticide Kepone® at Hopewell, Virginia, closes the James River to commercial fishing from Richmond to the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel.

1975-03-21 08:18:47

Continental Shelf Studies

In light of interest in exploring and developing oil and gas resources on Virginia's outer continental shelf, VIMS researchers conduct several years of benchmark studies of the area’s chemical, physical, geological, and biological characteristics.

1975-03-27 16:49:04

Oyster Hatchery

This 6,549 sf facility is the heart of the oyster-breeding effort on VIMS' Gloucester Point campus. The hatchery has served as VIMS' principal oyster-breeding facility since the inception of the Aquaculture Genetics and Breeding Technology Center (ABC) in 1997.

1976-01-06 19:11:18

Magnuson Fishery and Conservation Management Act

Provides for conservation and management of fisheries.

1979-10-04 20:54:36

Back to W & M

VIMS returns to the administrative umbrella of William & Mary and its scientists are accorded full faculty status at the College.

1980-10-04 11:31:31

Troubled Fisheries

Bay striped bass stocks are in sharp decline, as are populations of many mid-Atlantic sharks. Harvests of native oysters continue to plummet.

1981-03-27 16:49:04

Clam Aquaculture

VIMS shellfish pioneer Mike Castagna publishes “Manual for growing the hard clam Mercenaria,” which summarizes his decades of effort to develop the aquaculture methods that now underlie the East Coast’s multi-million dollar hard clam industry.

1984-10-25 09:43:24

Virginia Sea Grant

The Virginia Sea Grant program is designated as the nation's 20th National Sea Grant College Program, recognizing that Sea Grant activities in Virginia are providing state and national leadership in marine science and related fields.

1984-12-09 06:15:19

Watermen's Hall

Campus center houses administrative offices, Marine Advisory Services, the Hargis Library, McHugh Auditorium, and other facilities in 40,000 sf building.

1990-10-03 21:32:52

Crisis Points

Contaminants and excess nutrients continue eroding the Bay’s health. Wild oyster harvests fall to less than 5% of historical highs.

VIMS 75th Anniversary

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