The Marine Science Institute was founded in 1970, around the time that the issue of water resources was becoming a major concern for many Bay Area inhabitants. The Institute's philosophy was founded on the idea that putting students in direct physical contact with their local bay environment will help cultivate their natural sense of curiosity while enriching their understanding of science and fostering a responsibility to protect their environment.
The Discovery Voyage was the first program created that met with great success at the Institute's formation. In 1992 the Institute created land-based programs. These programs include the Shoreside program, the Inland Voyage, and the Tidepool program, which takes place at Pillar Point in Half Moon Bay. In the first year, the Discovery Program served about 4,000 students. Today, they average roughly 50,000 students and adults through all programs combined.
Prior to 1970, no bridge existed between environmental concerns and education in the San Francisco Bay area. Few opportunities existed for students to get hands-on experience with the flora and fauna of San Francisco Bay. As one Bay Area professor remarked at the time, "On a clear day we can see the Bay, but there is no way for my students to get their hands wet--in real water."