GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Plans are moving forward to more than double the space used by the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport. Construction bids are being opened to turn the empty area next to the current IMMS center into a 36,000 square foot facility, mostly indoors.
It will be a larger space for IMMS to house dolphins and sea lions, along with an aviary. Visitors will also have a chance to swim with sting rays and sharks.
Moby Solangi, Executive Director of the Institute, said the property has been acquired from the Harrison County Development Commission and is primarily being paid for by federal grants and private donations. Solangi thinks the expansion will give more people a chance to get up close and personal with the marine life.
"We have one of the largest dolphin populations in the United States here in the Mississippi Sound and adjacent waters," said Solangi. "Not everybody can go enjoy and see them, so we bring these animals up close to the public. Now we'll be able to accommodate a larger number of public."
Solangi also said he sees the project as a replacement for the Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport that was lost during Huricane Katrina.
"It takes what we have currently and enhances it. It has the same features but in a different format. It also for fills our mission which is education, conservation research and making learning fun."
Solangi says bids will be open on March 3rd, and he hopes construction will be finished by the end of this year.