The first marine stations were built in the second half of the 19th century. Prior to that time, marine organisms were collected and brought to laboratories in major cities to study. New laboratories would allow scientists to work on organisms in their natural habitat.
In the early 1880s, after founding the Roscoff Marine Station on the English Channel, Henri de Lacaze-Duthiers, the zoologist from the Sorbonne, decided to explore the Mediterranean coast to develop a second marine station. The rocky coast near Spain offered a wide variety of habitats and organisms and Lacaze-Duthiers was seduced by the Banyuls site to build a new lab. Construction began in 1881 and in 1882 the Arago Laboratory opened its doors at its current location with laboratories, offices, a library and even a local boat which was rented out to collect samples. The public aquarium was opened around 1884 to 1885 and the first students arrived shortly after.
Since its inception, the main tasks of the Arago laboratory are to train future generations of scientists to conduct research and to allow the public to discover the underwater world. The laboratory also has hosted scientists and celebrities from around the world. In the early 1890s, the reputation of the laboratory attracted the attention of Prince Roland Bonaparte (botanist, geographer and philanthropist)who decided to fund a series of vessels dedicated to the study of the sea The arrival of the first ship "The Roland "came at the same time as the opening of the port of Banyuls.
Over the years, the laboratory has welcomed scientists who wanted to promote and advance the marine sciences. Research building, laboratories, and infrastructure have been regularly extended over time to help accommodate new researchers, technicians and students who have contributed to the world wide reputation of the laboratory.