Stone Laboratory is for more than just research

Just across the harbor from the bustling tourist town of Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island sits tiny Gibraltar Island, home to the oldest freshwater biological research station in the United States. 

Here, students and faculty from colleges and universities across the Great Lakes study issues affecting the lake and the creatures that live in it. 

They work to turn their findings into solutions for those challenges at Stone Laboratory, run by Ohio State University through its Ohio Sea Grant program. 

Studies at Stone Lab have helped address harmful algal blooms, Lake Erie water snakes, invasive zebra mussels, spiders on the island, monarch butterfly migration, mercury in the atmosphere and much more. 

“We just run the whole gamut of things,” says Chris Winslow, Ohio Sea Grant Director. 

In addition to research, Stone Lab offers college credit to students from Ohio State University and other colleges for classes in environmental policy, aquatic biology, water quality management and more. Professors are from Ohio State, as well as other Midwest universities and colleges, including Mid-American Conference schools. It also offers a sport-fishing workshop. 

A Stone Lab student pulls aquatic plant life and fish from water taken on Lake Erie during a trawl on one of the lab's research boats. (Photo/Kristina Smith)And Stone Lab does plenty of outreach by educating lay people to help them better understand Lake Erie and what they can do to help protect it. 

Stone Lab costs $1.3 million to run. It brings in $700,000 of that, and Ohio Sea Grant and Ohio State University cover the rest, Winslow says. Much like Ohio Sea Grant itself, Stone Lab focuses on research, education, and outreach. 


Stone Lab predates Ohio Sea Grant. It started as Lake Laboratory in 1895 in a fish hatchery in Sandusky. Then it moved to Cedar Point in 1903, a time when there were still plenty of natural areas at the park. 

By 1918, it relocated to a fish hatchery – today the Aquatic Visitors Center at Put-in-Bay. Then in 1925, Julius Stone bought Gibraltar Island from the family of Jay Cooke, who financed the Civil War and built a large summer home that still stands on the island. 

Stone asked that the lab be named after his father, Franz Theodore Stone, and Gibraltar turned from a place of fishing and leisure to a place of research and education – with fishing mixed in.


Stone Lab has two research boats: The “Gibraltar III” and “Bio Lab,” which was built in 1947 and is the oldest research vessel on the Great Lakes. In these boats, students and staff go out onto the lake and take water samples, trawl for fish to study, take sediment samples, and more. 

Across the harbor on South Bass Island, Stone Lab has another lab facility and a mesocosm, which is an open-air testing area with water-filled tanks that allow students and researchers to bring in lake water to conduct different studies. The mesocosm opened in 2022 and is the first of its kind on the Great Lakes.

The facility has 15 circular tanks that each hold 600 gallons. The tanks replicate a natural environment on a much larger scale than fish tanks and beakers. 

“We want it to see the sun,” Winslow says. “We want it to be exposed to the elements.”

Researchers can bring in fish and introduce a known toxin to determine how the exposure affects the fish filets. In another tank, they have studied cyanobacteria, a form of harmful algal blooms. 

Although the tanks are covered in the winter, they can be left open to conduct winter studies.

“We just love this facility,” Winslow says. “It’s just a huge tool to have in the toolbox.”


The college students who spend their summers on the island, which has dorms to house them, come from colleges and universities across the Midwest. High school students also can take college courses there.

Class sizes are normally 9 to 12 students. They complete hands-on work, whether on the research boats, in the classroom, the lab or the mesocosm. 

Learning isn’t just limited to college students. An estimated 900 students in grades 5 – 12 come to Gibraltar each spring for field trips. They go out on the research boats, take samples of water and sediment and study fish. 


Each year, Stone Lab hosts groups of farmers who want to learn more about harmful algal blooms, bacteria that can produce toxins in the lake, and what they can do to keep their farms from contributing phosphorus runoff from fertilizer and manure. 

It also hosts various groups of mayors, county commissioners and legislators to help them to better make policy and advocate for a healthy lake. 

In June, Stone Lab hosts the annual harmful algal bloom forecast, to predict, based on scientific research, how bad the bloom will be that summer. Members of the media and stakeholders are invited so they can share the information with the public.