FIO Headquarters – Bayboro Harbor, St. Petersburg

Florida’s Renowned Marine Science Industry Grew Up With FIO

The Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO) traces its roots to the 1960s, when Florida’s State University System was struggling to balance the need for greater scientific knowledge with a scarcity of programs and resources.

Through the years, FIO has had different names, such as the Florida Inter-Institutional Committee and the State University System Institute of Oceanography. But it has only had one mission: to put scientists at the forefront of efforts to understand and protect the oceans. In the early to mid-1970s, the mission took on a task that will ring familiar today: assessment and protection of the Gulf of Mexico in the midst of a great push to open the region to offshore oil drilling. Their chief tool, a 71-foot, diesel-powered workhouse named the R/V Bellows.

Over the decades, coastal and estuarine biologists, geologists and chemists have turned to the FIO to provide the ship time needed to conduct their research in the deepest waters of the gulf and in the shallows of Florida’s coastline. In 1977, consultants recommended the major development of marine science center on Bayboro Harbor in St. Petersburg, which a year later became FIO’s home. In 1978, Vice Adm. Bill Behrens Jr. becomes the FIO Director.

In 1980 the MV Brandy is renamed to the RV Suncoaster. In 1983, FIO took over KML operations from Sea World and in the late 1980’s, brought the purchase of the Keys Marine Laboratory (KML), a greater working partnership with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and a new partnership with teacher training programs funded through the National Science Foundation that brought oceanography to K-12 classrooms. In 1998, John Ogden becomes FIO Director.

FIO Timeline


R/V W. T. Hogarth goes on tour around the entire state of Florida. View the R/V W. T. Hogarth Florida 2018 Ports Tour (PDF) flyer.


The R/V W. T. Hogarth was christened May 23, 2017. Additional vessels added to the FIO Vessel Fleet included R/V Price and the R/V Opah- arrived at FIO on November 7, 2017 – USF, Florida Welcome New Research Vessel – WUSF News.

FIO partnering with Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Marine Exploration Center presented the Inaugural Florida Marine Science Symposium (FMSS) held October 25, 2017 at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida.


Construction begins on a new FIO research vessel and the Keel Laying Ceremony held on June 1st at 10:00am at Duckworth Steel Boatyard in Tarpon Springs.


Keys Marine Laboratory (KML) completes the construction of a state-of-the-art system to manipulate seawater conditions for ocean acidification research, as well as providing high-quality reef water for marine research.


FIO is designated as the Gulf coast state entity responsible for administering the Florida RESTORE Act Centers of Excellence Program (FLRACEP). “On July 6, 2012, the President signed into law the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE Act; Subtitle F of Public Law 112-141). The Act established the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund in the U.S. Treasury Department. Eighty percent of the civil penalties paid after July 6, 2012, under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act in connection with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will be deposited into the Trust Fund and invested. Under the Act, amounts in the Trust Fund will be available for programs, projects, and activities that restore and protect the environment and economy of the Gulf Coast region.” US Department of Treasury.


Dr. Bill Hogarth become the FIO Director. Before joining USF, Dr. Hogarth was the former Assistant Administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), appointed by President George W. Bush in September 2001. During his appointment, he focused on management and enhancement for living marine resources and served as chairman of the International Whaling Commission and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.


The R/V Weatherbird II was a quick responder to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and FIO hosted students from the National Ocean Sciences Bowl on a day-long cruise aboard the Weatherbird II during which the students learned about the tools of ocean-going scientists, the deployment of advanced underwater gliders and how to use the vessel’s labs to analyze microscopic plankton.


FIO has been one of Florida’s Academic Infrastructure Support Organizations (AISO), a designation that puts it in a similar class with other shared university resources, such as the University Press of Florida. The Florida Board of Governors designated the University of South Florida as the host institution for the FIO and a newly constituted FIO Advisory Council was named to guide FIO into the future. FIO acquires R/V Weatherbird.


The FIO has been at the forefront of important discoveries. In 2005, the Bellows joined a group of research vessels in the historic mapping and examination of Pulley Ridge, America’s deepest photosynthetic coral reef. The expedition has provided scientists around the world with new findings on how such a complex reef system could develop some 250-feet below the surface, where it was thought to be too dark for reef life to thrive. Also in 2005, a five foot surge floods KML from Hurricane Wilma, taking 4 years to rebuild.