A Brief History

It all started with a vision shared by three pioneering zoologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Prof. Heinz Steinitz) and Tel Aviv University (Profs. Lev Fishelson and Chanan Levinson) who in the 1950s set up a shanty research camp (Fig. 1) on the remote shores of Eilat, the southernmost tip of Israel. Their dream was to turn that place into a modern marine laboratory that would become a hub for marine research in the Red Sea. That dream materialized in 1968 when the Hebrew University built the Marine Biology Laboratory (MBL; Fig. 1), later named after Prof. H. Steinitz, who passed away three years later.

More than a decade of scientific proliferation followed. Pioneering surveys and research in diverse disciplines were performed in the coral reefs of Eilat and Sinai and in the offshore, deep waters. Oceanographic research culminated in the mid 1970’s with the extensive oceanographic Data Collecting Program Eilat (DCPE), later compiled by Reiss and Hottinger in the milestone book "The Gulf of Aqaba" (1982; Springer). The DCPE’s core operation was carried out aboard MBL’s first research vessel, R/V Arnona (rented from IOLR - Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research). Additional research during that period included, among others, the seminal studies on the biology and ecology of corals, fishes and other reef inhabitants by Tel Aviv University professors, Yossi Loya and Lev Fishelson; biogeochemistry of corals and foraminifera by Jonathan Erez and Zeev Reiss; microbiology of the water-sediment interface in the Solar Lake by Yehuda Cohen, Bo Jorgensen and Moshe Shilo; and extensive studies on fish pathology and parasitology by Ilan Paperna. Many M.Sc. and Ph.D. theses resulted from those projects. Throughout that period MBL hosted on its premises IOLR’s Mariculture Research Center, headed by Hillel Gordin, who successfully domesticated the now one of the most widely marketed marine wild fish in the world, the sea bream Sparus aurata. The MBL at that time was a vivid, flourishing institute, frequented by local and international researchers and a hub for diverse field studies.

Identifying MBL’s immense potential for research and teaching, the laboratory directors at the time - Hebrew University neurophysiologists Profs. Itzhak Parnas and Micha Spira - endorsed by the Hebrew University’s General Director H. Bar Gil and with the enthusiastic support of Prof. Haim Harari, Chairman of the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education – transformed the MBL in 1984 into the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat (IUI).

Since then the IUI has operated as an advanced research and teaching facility jointly managed and equally shared by all research universities in Israel. This extraordinary move was made possible due to the ingenious vision of the aforementioned founders and the exceptional generosity of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in willing to share its own nationally-unique facility with all other universities in Israel. In doing so, the IUI has become a unique example for pooling of resources and an optimal utilization of shared facilities in a country with limited resources.