Shortly after the University of São Paulo (USP) was established, there were many requests for an ocean-front laboratory that would offer suitable conditions for marine research. In 1934, Professor Ernest Bresslau, founder of the Department of Zoology at USP, insisted with the state government to acquire Palmas Island (Santos, São Paulo) to build a laboratory for marine studies.
In spite of this first initiative being unsuccessful, many marine biology projects were carried out along the São Paulo State coastline. Uncountable internships were held at locations such as Palmas Island, Itanhaém, Peruíbe, Bertioga, São Sebastião and Ilhabela, and, at that time, researchers had to take along all the indispensible equipment, such as magnifying glasses, microscopes, nets, etc. Researchers and students would stay at local hotels or at improvised campsites. Many important studies, including some in collaboration with foreign researchers, such as C. Pantin, were undertaken at a small office rented by the São Sebastião Health Center.
Because of the numerous difficulties involved, some USP professors joined forces and bought a lot located about 6 km south from the São Sebastião (SP) city center, with the purpose to build an institute where they would be able to conduct research and teaching. The Marine Biology Institute Foundation (IBM, acronym in Portuguese for Fundação Instituto de Biologia Marinha) was created on February 14, 1955, and its statutes were approved by the University of São Paulo Committee. The institution founders were: Paulo Sawaya, Erasmo G. Mendes, Domingos Valente, George A. Edwards, João Paiva Carvalho, besides the University President José Mello Morais and the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy, Literature and Human Sciences, Eurípedes Simões de Paula. To build the first laboratory and housing, the Foundation obtained funding from the USP, the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), The Rockefeller Foundation and the State Government.
Since its establishment, the IBM has offered the necessary standards to host research activities of both national and foreign scientists, besides offering countless marine biology courses offered in a regular basis. Improvements, however, involved transferring the IBM to the USP central administration, which took place on December 17, 1962. In the early 1970’s, the facilities of the Marine Biology Institute (IBMar, acronym in Portuguese for Instituto de Biologia Marinha) were expanded, with the construction of a new housing, an auditorium, a library, and the refurbishing of the kitchen and cafeteria.
On September 24, 1980, the status of the institute changed to an inter-unit centre, thereafter named as the Centre for Marine Biology Center, which involved further changes of its statute (Decree 52.326; Dec/16/69) and conformance to the general norms of the University of São Paulo (Decree 52.906; 27/mar/72).
After a new change, on October 19, 1990, the general norms of the University of São Paulo made explicit the CEBIMar as one of its departments for integration - a Specialized Institute - along with the Nuclear Energy Centre in Agriculture (CENA, acronym in Portuguese for Centro de Energia Nuclear na Agricultura), the Electrotechnics and Energy Institute (IEE - Instituto de Eletrotécnica e Energia), the Institute for Advanced Studies (IEA - Instituto de Estudos Avançados) and the Institute for Brazilian Studies (IEB - Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros).
The plan to build a new laboratory to meet the centre's new mission, first envisioned in the 1970’s, was finally put into practice in 1993. Despite being reduced to about 1/3 of its initially estimated area, this building provided substantial infrastructure improvements, allowing a steep increase of the number of hosted scientific projects and also much better conditions for experimental work and equipment maintenance.