GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A brand new marine animal experience is set to open this summer in Gulfport. No, not the Mississippi Aquarium. Do you remember Marine Life? Well, it's coming back, in a way.
It's been almost a dozen years since Hurricane Katrina leveled much of the coast, including one of the area's most popular marine attractions. Now, a new facility is almost complete, and it brings back the spirit of Marine Life, with a twist.
"This is a different model. I think it's going to be very good for our community, and it's going to be a landmark," said Dr. Moby Solangi, Director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies.
Solangi was the director of Marine Life when the storm hit. He became director of IMMS in the aftermath, which built a center for research and marine animal rehab.
IMMS was built off Lorraine Rd., tucked away next to the canal. The facility already hosts school field trips and other groups, but Solangi said plans have been in the works for a while to expand.
"It brings together all our missions, which was education, conservation, and research. Public display was missing, and now we have it. We have combined all of these together and have made it one," said Solangi.
Like Marine Life, Solangi said this new seven-acre, $15 million expansion will include interactive experiences like dolphin and sea lion demonstrations. It will also feature an aviary and a chance to swim with stingrays and sharks.
But, Solangi said there will be a bigger focus on education and the work that IMMS does for sea life, like the institute's help after the BP oil spill.
"We responded to 36 percent of the dolphins and 50 percent of the turtles," said Solangi.
Seeing this expanded campus come out of the ground is encouraging for Solangi after a lot of hard work to make it happen.
"It has been a struggle. It has been a challenge. We never gave up on it," he said.
Solangi said this expansion will more than double the size of the complex. He hopes to have a grand opening sometime this summer.