WUCEL's History

Glaxo factory ca 1948.

Victoria University of Wellington first proposed a marine laboratory and aquarium at Island Bay in the 1920s. Although the Wellington City Council had previously granted a site for this facility, it was not until the 1960s that the Island Bay Marine Laboratory first came into existence.

Glaxo factory

Clifford Debell, Managing Director of the Glaxo factory.

The University's first Marine Laboratory occupied a set of buildings that were originally constructed in the late 1940s by the Glaxo Company, as a shark liver oil refining plant for the extraction of Vitamin A. Fishermen around the country would catch sharks, remove the livers and place them in sealed milk churns. These were left without refrigeration at railway stations for New Zealand Railways to deliver to Island Bay.

Island Bay
Island Bay ca 1950.
Interior of Glaxo factory showing milk churns containing whole livers and a grinding machine in operation.

Island Bay Marine Education Centre

In 1996, the Island Bay Marine Education Centre began, sharing Victoria University of Wellington’s research facilities until 2005, when the Marine Education Centre moved to its current location at the old Bait House in Island Bay.

In 2007, the University committed to a major refit and upgrade of the Marine Laboratory, to support and accommodate the substantial growth in its marine biology and coastal ecology research.


Construction of the Wellington University Coastal Ecology Laboratory (WUCEL) began in late 2007 and a new state-of-the-art research facility was completed at the end of 2008. Read more about our facilities.