THE TRAILER DAYS: 1979 – 1983

In the late 1960s, Louisiana university representatives began to discuss plans for the development of a marine consortium that could meet the growing needs of researchers and provide educational enrichment for students throughout the state. Strong leadership, including the efforts of Dr. Darryl Felder, to garner the political, legislative, and university support helped to make a marine laboratory for the state of Louisiana a reality. A proposal to form the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium was endorsed by the Louisiana Board of Regents and enacted into law by the Louisiana legislature in 1979. LUMCON began operating at the end of Highway 56 in Cocodrie before architectural planning for the Marine Center even began in 1980.  In 1982, the LUMCON Foundation, Inc. a non-profit group was founded and led by Dr. Wayne Forman, to support the financial, educational, and general material welfare of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium until its dissolution in 1999.

Dr. Don Boesch, a New Orleans native, was Executive Director of LUMCON from 1980 to 1990. “I guess I was crazy for applying to run a marine research consortium… I was only 34″ said Dr. Boesch.  Boesch left a faculty position at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science to return to his home state of Louisiana. “This was a dream-like opportunity to build a research center in a place where I was born and raised… in a place where I used to go fishing with my father.”

LUMCON began humbly, with a set of five trailers in the marsh: the library, the administrative offices, the zooplankton lab, the benthos lab, and the kitchen/dormitory. LUMCON’s first faculty member, Dr. Michael Dagg, said that when he arrived, he “… had nothing. I came down here from Long Island and for six months was living in one end of my trailer; my lab was on the other end. Thankfully, we did have electricity—most of the time.”

Dr. Nancy Rabalais has similar stories of her adventures in LUMCON’s early facilities. “There was a big word processor in the middle of the administrative trailer, like a typewriter that remembered so you could fix mistakes. I was working one night on my (Ph.D.) dissertation when the machine started smoking. I thought ‘this is my dissertation- it will be nothing but smoke!’. Thankfully I was able to rescue and then finish it.”

Cocodrie offers easy access to Louisiana’s more natural marine resources.  The trailers were not LUMCON’s only facilities. In 1979, LUMCON began leasing the Fourchon field station from Nicholls State University. The Fourchon camp expanded LUMCON’s reach because of the manmade coastal structures nearby until 2021 when the camp was turned back over to Nicholls.


Boesch’s job as LUMCON’s first Executive Director was more difficult and complex than he had ever imagined. “My job, which I thought was to build the Consortium, turned out to be convincing everyone to provide funding for the facilities.” Rabalais says the proof of his success became inescapable: “We were continually reminded of the construction because of the ground shaking and the noise.”

In April 1983, Governor David Treen (1980-84) flew in to attend the much-anticipated groundbreaking for LUMCON’s Marine Center. “After an unusually long period of dry weather, we had this tremendous rain that turned the construction site into a quagmire,” said Boesch. “Governor Treen had traveled down from Baton Rouge by helicopter and had almost turned back because of the intensity of storms. I remember the Governor getting out of the helicopter and looking rather green in the gills because of the harrowing ride… I also remember wondering if he was thinking he had made a big mistake.”

The groundbreaking ceremony was moved into a National Guard tent that LUMCON had borrowed in anticipation of rain. Soggy guests packed into the hot and humid tent as plans were quickly rearranged in response to the less-than-opportune conditions. “I had a lump in my throat and my heart was at my feet, but we still started the ceremony as planned with the Dusenberry Family singing the National Anthem in French,” recalled Boesch. “When they sang in their beautiful harmonizing voices, it was so moving. I believe it transformed the whole process and everyone forgot about the adversities we were encountering that day.”

As ground was broken under the army-green tent, LUMCON took its first steps towards construction of its current Cocodrie facilities. LUMCON employees moved into the new Marine Center in 1986, even though its construction was not completed until 1987. “Moving into the building was absolutely wonderful. It was a joy to finally be in here,” recalled Dagg.

Even before the building was completed, LUMCON received its first research vessel, the R.J. Russell, from Louisiana State University. The R/V Pelican replaced the Russell in 1985 and the R/V Acadiana was added to LUMCON’s fleet soon after, in 1986 (click here for a more complete history of LUMCON’s vessels).

The Marine Center’s dedication ceremony was held beneath the facility in May 1987 and was attended by approximately 200 people, including Governor Edwin Edwards, LUMCON Council Chairman Dr. Darryl Felder, U.S. Representative Billy Tauzin and U.S. Senator John Breaux. “John Breaux can clearly be considered one of the political founders of LUMCON. He supported the concept of the Consortium back in the late 1970s,” said Boesch.

Another strong advocate of the Consortium was Woodrow J. DeFelice (1914-87). In January 1996, the Marine Center was renamed the W.J. “Woody” DeFelice Marine Center in recognition of his support for LUMCON and his dedication to improving education in Louisiana. DeFelice served as Lafourche Parish School Superintendent from 1959-71 and served on the Louisiana Board of Regents from 1974-80.


Moving into the DeFelice Marine Center marked the beginning of a significant expansion for LUMCON. The Consortium’s first Marine Education Instructor, Dr. John Trowbridge, was hired in June 1987. “My first day I had about two hours of trying to figure out what to do before the phone started ringing and people wanted to bring students down,” said Trowbridge. “It was quite amazing. It blossomed very quickly.” In fact, the interest for marine science education in Louisiana was so strong that LUMCON’s only marine educator often relied on staff from other departments to accommodate all of the visitors. “Everyone was super and really kicked in. It was very much a family environment and a labor of love,” said Trowbridge.

Don Boesch pushed to take advantage of the new facilities by hiring more faculty to be based at the DeFelice Marine Center. Thirteen marine science faculty and dozens of associated researchers called LUMCON home at some point between 1987 and 2016. With higher numbers of faculty came more support staff and increased connections to other marine researchers in Louisiana.

The governing structure of LUMCON has fluctuated through the years. Boesch originally reported to a 13-member advisory board (with seats filled by consortium university department heads and faculty) and the Board of Regents. Other Executive Directors reported to member-university presidents, Vice Chancellors, and Vice Presidents of Research. In 2016, legislation was passed that placed LUMCON directly under the Louisiana Board of Regents.


In 2016, LUMCON hired its current Executive Director, Dr. Craig McClain. Operating under a new strategic plan, McClain is overseeing LUMCON through a growth phase that will more fully realize LUMCON’s mission to CONNECT universities through stronger partnerships, ENRICH the community through education and outreach initiatives, and TRANSFORM the fields of marine science and conservation in impactful, meaningful, and profound ways.

LUMCON continues to strengthen the ties between Consortium-member institutions by bolstering their research and education programs. Infrastructure improvements including new aquaculture facilities, environmental monitoring stations, dive operations, and small vessels alongside overall renovations of the DeFelice Marine Center continue to expand LUMCON’s capacity to support innovative science. For example, a remodel of our 100-seat auditorium allows LUMCON to now host scientific meetings and groups tackling the largest marine and conservation science issues.

LUMCON is well-poised to foster a thriving intellectual community. Three new faculty were hired to work at the DeFelice Marine Center in the summer of 2017 and two more faculty hires are planned for 2018 and 2019. LUMCON is also increasing its engagement of new and senior researchers at Consortium-member institutions, once again broadening the role it plays in marine science in Louisiana and across the globe.

Education and outreach programs at LUMCON are being realigned and expanded to focus on reaching underrepresented and underserved populations. The landscape of Louisiana represents one of considerable diversity and it requires considerable effort to provide opportunities across these diverse populations. With Louisiana’s poverty rate (19.6%) well above the national average of 12.4%, LUMCON is creating innovative and dedicated programs, like public events such as Meet the Fleet and deep-learning experiences for students in the Remote Operated Vehicle Workshop, to engage and provide opportunities for these populations.

The DeFelice Marine Center has become the site of a thriving community in the summer. On-site residents include university-level course participants, graduate students, visiting scientists, undergraduate interns, preK-12 summer campers, and Consortium-member faculty conducting research. LUMCON has enriched these summer programs by providing innovative research and education opportunities in an environment that encourages networking and collaboration. These enhancements are formalized by grouping these summer programs into the White Boot School.