D'IBERVILLE, MS (WLOX) - It's a family destination that's expected to attract people from across the region, even all over the world. On Friday, about 300 people gathered to break ground on the new Ocean Expo Aquarium and Learning Center in D'Iberville. The interactive exhibits will bring you face-to-face with marine life.
The first phase features a 40,000 square foot facility with interactive dolphin and sea lion shows, touch pools, and a snorkeling lagoon. There's also an aviary and butterfly exhibit, a rain forest, kid's cove, even eco-tours.
"This will be a destination resort for the state of Mississippi and this will bring a first class entertainment complex," said D'Iberville Mayor Rusty Quave.
A crowd of federal, state and local leaders, along with other supporters, gathered at the site to break ground on the world-class aquarium. D'Iberville donated the 8.5 acre property at the southwest corner of I-10 and I-110. The city will also help with access roads and build a pipeline that will pump salt water from Biloxi's Back Bay to the Ocean Expo site.
The speakers credited one man for having the vision and the will to push this project along-- Moby Solangi.
"Moby's dedication and hard work is the reason for this facility. This facility will become a great learning center and show how we need to protect these animals and protect the environment," said Ellie Roche of NOAA.
But Solangi called it a community project that will become the "Gateway to the Gulf."
"We had a dream. That dream was before Katrina to do something spectacular," said Dr. Moby Solangi, Ocean Expo Director. "We need to do something for our children, for our legacy, and for creating stewardship in the general public for the coastal environment."
And since it's about creating a fun destination to educate and inspire children, some second graders from D'Iberville Elementary helped turn the dirt to mark the next step in the development.
"I'm privileged, I'm honored, I'm humbled that we have all of you place your trust in us to do a fine job," said Solangi. "We hope that once it's done, you all will be very proud of what we have left behind for our families, our children, and for all the visitors that come to the Gulf Coast."
Phase one will cost about $30 million. It's being funded by federal and state grants and private donations. Initially, about 100 employees will be hired. Ocean Expo is expected to open in the summer of 2014.