The importance of conducting research and training in marine sciences dates back to 1965 when the Faculty of Science of the then Dar es Salaam College of East Africa introduced a course in Marine Biology. The need for creating an institution with the mandate to conduct research and training in marine sciences was pointed out in 1974 during an International Conference on Marine Resource Development in Eastern Africa. The conference, which was organized by the Department of Zoology and Marine Biology of the University of Dar es Salaam, had a primary objective of assessing the need and potential for marine resources development in Eastern Africa
One of the major deliberations of the conference was establishment of an Institute of Marine Resource Development. This recommendation was taken-up seriously by the University and the Institute of Marine Sciences (IMS) was established on 17th October 1978 under the University of Dar es Salaam Act No. 12 of 1970. The establishment of the Institute of Marine Sciences was tabled and approved by the University Council on 18th August 1978 and later endorsed by the Government through the University of Dar es Salaam (Establishment of Institute of Marine Sciences) Order, 1979 (Government Notice No. 34 published on 16th March 1979)
While the planning of the physical facilities of the Institute was under consideration, the East African Community (EAC) broke-up. The community had a research organization based on Zanzibar known as the East African Marine Fisheries Research Organization (EAMFRO), which was mainly dealing with fisheries research. Since the activities of the EAMFRO were partly similar to those of the proposed Institute, it was decided that the former should be a nucleus to the latter, and subsequently the premises were transferred to the University of Dar es Salaam. IMS is still based in the same premises. However, construction of the institute headquarters is currently being undertaken at a more spacious area at Buyu, about 13 km south of the Stone Town of Zanzibar.