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Today is May 9, 2021

Mississippi Aquarium

Education, conservation and community

By Steven Ward

Mississippi Aquarium

The aquarium is an exciting and welcome addition to our coastline.

You can’t miss the sails.

The first thing you see when you enter the Mississippi Aquarium are three massive sails that stand 65 feet in height. Each of the sails represents one of the aquarium’s three pillars: education, conservation and community.

After years of planning and construction, the new aquarium on Gulfport’s coastline was slated to open on August 29.

“The aquarium sits on 5.8 acres and encompasses more than 80,000-square-feet of indoor and outdoor exhibits connected by landscaped walkways with plants that represent all the physiographic regions of Mississippi,” said Mississippi Aquarium Chief Executive Officer Kurt Allen.

The aquarium’s construction and pre-opening costs were funded through a public and private partnership. Allen said 90% of the funding came from the City of Gulfport, the state and Restore Act Grants and Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act money. The other 10% came from private donations through the aquarium’s foundation.

The aquarium features more than one million gallons of fresh and saltwater, more than 200 species in 12 habitats, 50 species of native plants, a half-mile of walking paths connecting the habitats, summer camps, education programs, a large event space for meetings and weddings as well as a 30-foot long, 360-degree tunnel.

While most aquariums have a 180-degree tunnel on their ground levels, Mississippi Aquarium’s 360-degree suspended acrylic tunnel goes directly through the primary habitat. This will give guests a chance to “walk on water” while having views of marine life from every angle — above them and below them.

Later on, after the aquarium has been open for a while, the facility will allow guest and animal interactions through SeaTREK, a helmet diving experience. Guests will be fully immersed in the main Aquatic Wonders habitat where they will get up close and personal with fish, sharks, rays and more, Allen said.

Once inside the main part of the aquarium, children will be able to explore touch tanks, where children can interact with small fish, starfish, sharks and cownose rays.

The touch tank was partially funded by Coast Electric Power Association.

“The aquarium is an exciting and welcome addition to our coastline,” said Coast Electric President and CEO Ron Barnes.

“This facility brings great educational experiences to residents and visitors, not to mention the economic impact it will have for our state. I am excited that through our Operation Round Up program and the generosity of Coast Electric members, we were able to provide a grant to the aquarium for touch tanks that will give students a hands-on learning experience,” Barnes added.

Education is one of the three pillars of the aquarium.

“Reaching the hearts and minds of all guests by connecting them with the planet’s most precious ecosystems is the driving force behind Mississippi Aquarium’s Education Department,” Allen said.

Mississippi Aquarium will host Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (S.T.E.A.M.) focused field trips that give students and teachers an opportunity to experience onsite exploration and hands-on lessons in a state-of-the-art classroom.

University education will play a role as well.

The University of Southern Mississippi will participate in saltwater research and education, while Mississippi State University will support veterinary services that will provide their students with additional hands-on opportunities.

The aquarium will also deploy a community outreach vehicle, the Mobile Marine Unit, that will travel across the state and region to provide education about animals and ocean conservation.

The second pillar of the aquarium is conservation.

Mississippi Aquarium’s Aquatic Research Center will be the foundation of conservation efforts. The aquarium’s research and conservation programs will make the maximum contribution to regional science and education while being integrated into the cultural, scientific and educational foundation of Mississippi.

Some of those conservation programs include dolphin research on behavior, genetics, welfare and health; a health study initiative to study the connection between humans, animals and the environment and a conservation Mississippi license plate that will feature an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin and a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle with the aquarium’s three sails in the background. The proceeds of the car tag will support conservation efforts for dolphins and sea turtles along coastal Mississippi and beyond.

The third pillar is community.

The aquarium is an anchor for economic development in and around downtown Gulfport with the creation of nearly 100 full-time jobs, Allen said. The aquarium will also get involved with beach and river cleanup programs, recycling programs, mentorship opportunities and Project SAIL, an initiative that ensures diverse audiences, regardless of economic status, to participate in on-site programs at no cost to the school.

When asked why Mississippi was the perfect location for a major aquarium, Allen said the Gulf of Mexico is one of the most beloved and thriving ecosystems in the world.

“In downtown Gulfport, Mississippi Aquarium is located directly across from the white sands of the Coastal Mississippi beaches to showcase all the marine life our special ecosystem has to offer,” Allen said.

“The aquarium has access to some of the most respected marine scientists and researchers in their fields. It was imperative that we bring these resources to Coastal Mississippi so we can learn, educate and protect the Gulf.”


If you go:

Ticket prices include daily admission. Visits — including dates and entry times — must be scheduled at the time of purchase. Visitors who purchase memberships receive unlimited daily admission and don’t need tickets.

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