Marine Education Center  REBUILDING THE MEC

Gulf Coast Research Laboratory Marine Education Center, Cedar Point

In 2005, storm surge from Katrina destroyed the entire thirty-two thousand square foot Marine Education Center located in Biloxi on Point Cadet. The entire building, every exhibit, and all the educational tools were lost. All aquariums and their inhabitants were destroyed.

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Marine Education Center in Biloxi destroyed by Hurricane Katrina August 29, 2005

The Marine Education Center moved to USM's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory campus in Ocean Springs to regroup and rebuild the educational programs. The first reaction was to replace what was lost with a similar thirty-two thousand square foot new facility at the University’s Cedar Point Site. The project that was envisioned would have required substantial clearing and fill and would have resulted in significant impacts to the ecology at the site. Serious reservations were expressed about the appropriateness of rebuilding a facility that would not reflect the environmental stewardship principals we teach every day.

We went back to the drawing board and adopted a new approach. We decided that the building design and site development itself needs to be the best teaching tool we have to get our core message across to the public. We need to teach by example.

The new center will reflect our care for the environment and serve as an example of the coastal stewardship principles we teach young people every day. We contracted Lake/Flato Architects of San Antonio with Unabridged Architects as their Mississippi partner to lead the journey of listening to the land. We rewrote the plan with an eye towards enhancing and expanding our 'come and do' experiential programs rather than a 'come and see' format. We want to fully utilize our surrounding site and the range of habitats that it contains.

We set forth on the initiative to inventory the site and identify the sensitive areas of the property. The result of studying the site allows us to strategically design our education buildings to capitalize on the unique views, habitat types and teaching opportunities that the site presents. The site is divided up into three discrete zones. The section on the property having the higher ridge for building placement and includes boat access to Davis Bayou was designated zone one. This is where the public can interface with indoor and outdoor exhibits and walk nature trails.

The buildings will be safe from future storms and their placement will result in minimal impact to the sensitive areas of the property. A second zone was created to house the primary teaching and classroom facilities. This provides a secluded, special zone where students will work on field based projects and lessons. The final zone, comprising the majority of the site, was set aside as an observation and research zone.

GCRL Marine Education Center at Cedar Point
The rebuilt Marine Education Center will be a place of inspiration, providing quality learning experiences to students and visitors of all ages through exhibits, education programs, and outdoor and off-shore field experiences.
Miss Peetsy B.

The center’s exhibits and activities will illustrate the public value and applicability of the University’s ongoing research at Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. _____________________

“The new Marine Education Center will be a great resource for schools in the region.  Our students will have opportunities explore a range of coastal science disciplines.  Some will be inspired to pursue careers in the sciences.  Just as important, these programs will help prepare the next generation of community leaders who understand and care about the environment in which they live.”

Bonita Coleman-Potter, PhD Superintendent,
Ocean Springs School District