If the last 20 years have been an educational and commercial
success for The University of Southern Mississippi's J.L.
Scott Aquarium, then hold onto your waders and secure your
snorkels because the next 10 years promises a tidal wave of
the next decade, the marine education center and tourist attraction
in Biloxi will undergo radical improvements. On the drawing
board are plans to expand the 42,000-gallon Gulf of Mexico
tank to 400,000 gallons, roughly the size of the Aquarium
of the Americas in New Orleans. An IMAX-style 3-D theater
also is envisioned, as well as a 500-seat amphitheater facing
Deer Island that could be used for "sea-symphonies."
are the window to the sea," said Dr. Sharon Walker, Southern
Miss professor and administrator of the university's 33,000-square-foot
facility that represents one of the six research centers in
Southern Miss's current College of Marine Sciences.
we do is basically bridge the gap between what marine researchers
are doing and the public's understanding of how it affects
them," she added. "Through our exhibits, they can
look in and see that research in a tangible form."
the aquarium would grow considerably, Walker stressed the
importance of retaining a large availability of "green
space" for families to enjoy fishing, picnicking and
other leisure activities.
Aquarium has been inspiring students, educators and the public
at large for the last 20 years and in many respects,
it's just getting started.
year at Scott Aquarium more than 31,000 teachers, students
and adults discover the marine sciences firsthand through
award-winning programs that have served as models for other
national and regional programs. In addition to teachers and
students, another 50,000 visitors encounter both plants from
the Gulf of Mexico and aquatic species and their habitats
featured in the center's 48 aquariums.
they encounter live animals like alligators, amphibians, turtles
and nonvenomous snakes. A touch-tank allows visitors to get
a "hands-on" experience literally
with starfish, sea urchins, hermit crabs and other invertebrates.
Rounding out the experience are other interactive marine science
exhibits and environmental art galleries, featuring aquatic
works by noted regional artists. Guests also can relax in
the aquarium's 313-seat auditorium and view continuously running
videos featuring sharks, dolphins and other sea-related topics.
Aquarium recently was given approval by the secretary of state's
office in cooperation with the State Board of Trustees of
the Institutions of Higher Learning to conceive a master plan
for the new facility, which would be built on the current
site at Point Cadet.
kind of expansion would benefit the public and the state economy
alike, Walker said, adding, "We see about 80,000 people
annually and we did a market analysis in 1999 that
showed if we built a state-of-the-art aquarium, we could have
765,000 people attend just the aquarium on an annual basis."
By adding an IMAX-style theater, another 248,000 people would
flock to the facility, meaning "we could see a million
people a year," she said.
said that in the past, people have come to the Gulf Coast
for one of three things: fishing, golfing or gaming.
if there are more family convention-type things to do, then
they might stay an additional night which means more
money spent at the restaurants, more money spent at hotels,"
more night means a lot more money to the economy of this state.
Some think that with the new aquarium, instead of people going
to New Orleans to stay and then taking a day trip to the coast,
people will start staying on the coast and taking their day
trip to New Orleans."
said the expanded aquarium probably would be built first because
the revenue it created would help fund the other projects.
of what makes Scott Aquarium so unique is that it has one
foot in tourism and another in education. Funded in the Gulf
Coast Research Laboratory's line-item budget, Scott Aquarium
has received several prestigious grants including a
recent one by the National Science Foundation that makes the
aquarium headquarters for the Central Gulf of Mexico Center
for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE). The grant
is funded in conjunction with the National Sea Grant College
Program and the Office of Naval Research.
year, about 31,000 pre-college teachers and their students
come from around the country to the renowned aquarium to "learn
and develop their own programs," Walker said.
mission is to increase awareness of marine and aquatic environments
in the public and in our 31,000 pre-college students and teachers,"
she said. "We realize not everyone is going to become
a scientist nor would we want them to be but
we can empower these people to make more responsible decisions
about resources and the fragility of our environment and how
we're all interconnected."