London University told staff at the University Marine Biology Centre Station in Millport that the long-established facility would be shut down in 2013.
Thousands of students have been stationed at Millport while on field trips, with its closure ending more than 125 years of history that began when marine biologist Sir John Murray set up a floating laboratory at Port Loy in a disused barge.
The Cumbrae Community Development Company (CCDC) is trying to save the station which they say contributes £2.5 million to the Scottish economy every year and is the third-largest employer on the island. A Facebook campaign already has 2500 followers.
The CCDC said: "The socio-economic implications for the fragile island community will be fundamental and far-reaching."
It said the impending closure was attributed to a decision take by the Higher Education Funding Council for England to drastically reduce funding to the facility over the next three years. "It is expected that the university will issue a formal decision in late January; this did not prevent them from informing the station's staff of their catastrophic decision just four days prior to the Christmas recess," said the CCDC.
Alan Hill, deputy leader of North Ayrshire Council, said: "The proposed closure of Cumbrae's Marine Station will have truly devastating consequences for this fragile island community."