GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Anticipation hit a crescendo today with the grand opening of Mississippi Aquarium.
The $100 million aquatic wonderland, sold tickets and welcomed people from the coast and beyond to get their first look at the aquarium. People started lining up early to be the first inside the new aquarium.
“We’re excited to be here because we’ve been waiting a year for this.” said a woman, who was the first person in line.
At exactly 10 in the morning, Gov. Tate Reeves opened the gate and people streamed inside. Governor Reeves realized how important family attractions are for tourism because it affects the entire state.
“Venues like this are going to be additive,” said Gov. Tate Reeves. “We’re going to see significantly more people coming to the Gulf Coast and Mississippi because this is a family friendly environment and it’s very cool.”
The aquarium featured more than a million gallons of freshwater and saltwater, with a wide variety of habitats. The 5.8 acre outdoor and indoor campus showed off 200 species. The aquatic adventure appealed to people of all ages with kids having a passionate interest in seeing it all.
“I’m going to have a lot of fun.” said a little girl with a big smile on her face.
The Mississippi Aquarium has been a long time in the making. The staff has gathered animals and built all the habitats for more than two years and when opening day arrived, it was an exciting day for everyone.
“It’s like having a baby because you nurture all of this and now it’s open and ready to go,” said Ric Urban, VP of Animal Care and Conservation. “We have to take care of it and build it up.”
One of the highlights was the 30 foot long, 360 degree acrylic tunnel. The 65 foot tall sails entry area, completed with the aquarium’s signature feature, the fountain.
Besides offering entertainment, the staff said the goal is to educate people about the environment and all the things that make the world so unique. They also said the aquarium’s mission is to enlighten guests not just from the coast, but statewide.
“Our education and conservation programs will go all over the state and we’ll go up to north Mississippi with our outreach and we’ll bring the coast up north.” said CEO Kurt Allen.
While the state is still dealing with COVID-19, aquarium leaders followed all the rules and came up with protocols with public health in mind.
“We make sure we’re following the latest orders by Gov. Tate Reeves and the CDC with what they are recommending,” said Vice President of Sales and Marketing Kendra Simpson. “We do require masks. It’s mandatory in Gulfport and we are doing are best to keep people 6 feet apart. We are doing time ticketing so we only allow a certain number of people in the gate every 30 minutes to make sure everyone can social distance once they’re on campus.”
The kids loved all the exhibits and all the attractions that the new aquarium had to offer.
“Colorful exhibits put the star attractions on full display much to the delight of visitors, especially kids,” said a little boy gazing into one of the habitats. “It’s awesome. I really like all the animals.”
The dolphins haven’t arrived yet which is the aquarium’s main attraction. Their transport was held up by tropical storms.
The dolphins are expected to be on the property soon.