J.L. Scott Aquarium & Marine Education Center opened in 1984 on Biloxi's Point Cadet, attracting locals and tourists who wanted to observe Mississippi's coastal life. The center's education outreach touched thousands. |
Buddy, the gopher tortoise, was a favorite. A nurse shark, large red drum, even Biloxi Bacon (mullet) swam in the big tank or smaller aquariums that were a visual trip from marsh to the Gulf. A touch tank, gift shop and large shell collection lured return visitors.
Katrina's destruction of the center, its collections and marine life, creates a question mark. Scott is included in the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory's budget but the University of Southern Mississippi administers GCRL. That brings the Institution of Higher Learning, which oversees state universities, into the picture.
"The IHL board feels like we need to look into the possibilities of not going back to Point Cadet," said Sharon Walker, Scott director. "They are concerned about building a facility back there and having something like this happen again."
Before Katrina, the center planned a new 79,400-square-foot aquarium facility, designed after J.L. Scott's overseers - the Isle of Capri Casino, the city of Biloxi, and the Secretary of State's Office - agreed the center's prime waterfront site would be used for education. Now, IHL with USM and GCRL have one year to decide what to do.
Among possibilities, Walker said, is to build a state-of-the-art marine education center at Ocean Springs' Cedar Point, near the research lab where the Scott staff has set up classrooms to continue its school and spring-summer camp outreaches. Walker says another possibility is to find a sponsor/developer for an aquarium on the Point Cadet site or a comparable waterfront site.
"We need to retain our quality-of-life aspects like museums, science centers and aquariums," Walker said.
- KAT BERGERON