A Mississippi Aquarium Attraction Is in the Works for Gulfport
By Tracy D. DeStazio
A new Mississippi Aquarium attraction is headed to Gulfport! If you live in the coastal counties or visit the beaches often, you may have noticed a 5.8-acre site under construction along Beach Boulevard in Gulfport. This site will soon be home to the Mississippi Aquarium, expected to be a sprawling campus of indoor and outdoor exhibits set to open in late 2019 or early 2020.
The aquarium is expected to contain a million gallons of water, with both saltwater and freshwater exhibits. It will house 70 species and will feature 12 animal habitats. Marine life will be showcased, along with other wildlife from Mississippi’s gulf and marsh environments. Alligators, river otters, river fish, dolphins, stingrays and sharks are all possibilities.
Also in the works is a 30-foot-long “gulf tunnel” that surrounds visitors with sea life, plus a 65-foot-tall fountain. More than 50 different species of non-toxic plants will be included.
According to Mississippi Aquarium President and CEO David J. Kimmel, the new attraction will celebrate and showcase Mississippi’s wildlife and will give children and adults the opportunity to experience marine life in a unique, hands-on way.
“Our highly skilled animal care and education staff will work with families to make their experience at the aquarium interactive, educational and exciting,” he said.
“At the end of the day,” he continued, “we want families to have fun while discovering something new at every turn, and learning something new every time they visit.”
Kimmel’s staff plans to include education program that will “inspire students to appreciate the marine environment.”
He believes by teaching children about “conservation, ecology and stewardship,” they will “apply this knowledge to make sustainable choices and take an active part in preserving our marine environment.”
Conservation will be at the heart of the aquarium’s efforts. Kimmel said he hopes educating on the impacts humans have on the Gulf of Mexico will “inspire them on how they can make the change — and be the change — to protect our Gulf Coast.”
Kimmel hopes the venue will be used for other special programs and activities, including birthday parties, sleepovers, summer conservation camps, school field trips and more. Future partnerships with the University of Southern Mississippi and Mississippi State University are also expected.
“We are counting the days [until it opens],” said Victoria Williams, mother of two and a sixth grade teacher at St. James Elementary School in Gulfport.
“As a teacher, I can’t wait to start an annual sixth grade field trip to the aquarium,” Williams said. “As a mother, I can’t wait for my kids to participate in the summer camps, and I know my daughter is excited about the touch pool.”
Kimmel said the aquarium also has the potential to contribute to the coast economy in the form of new jobs, tourism, private sector development and annual tax revenues. Upon opening, the aquarium will be self-sustaining and will operate at no cost to the taxpayer, according to the Mississippi Aquarium website.
“The aquarium benefits the Mississippi Gulf Coast in many ways and impacts the area by promoting education, conservation, and community,” Kimmel added.
The new aquarium will join Gulfport’s Ocean Adventures Marine Park in providing marine life exposure and educational experiences for area families and visitors. Ocean Adventures currently offers summer camps and “up-close” experiences with dolphins, sea lions, sharks, rays, birds and reptiles.
coming in late 2019/early 2020
Location: 2100 East Beach Boulevard, Gulfport
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10801 Dolphin Lane, Gulfport
Tracy D. DeStazio is a freelance writer and editor living in Biloxi. She has been married to her high school sweetheart for 24 years and they have three children. She can’t wait to take her family to the Mississippi Aquarium as soon as it opens!