Long Awaited Site Visit to the Mississippi Aquarium
After a two-year COVID delay and two eventful hurricane seasons, we were finally able to visit the Mississippi Aquarium in Gulfport, MS for our long overdue punchwalk post-construction (and in this case, post-opening). The Mississippi Aquarium fills the void of its predecessor, Marine Life Oceanarium, which was tragically destroyed during Hurricane Katrina. Seventeen years later, this new aquarium is the definition of hope and regrowth – helping to rejuvenate tourism within the surrounding community, providing animal rehabilitation initiatives to animals, and aquatic life education to the public.
As lighting designers, the Mississippi Aquarium provided the perfect juxtaposition of art and science – challenging us to navigate giant tanks full of fish and rockwork, and finding that perfect balance between guest experience and optimal fish environments. Much like people, exposure to different levels of light can modify fish behavior; and finding that balance makes these aiming trips a crucial step in the overall lighting design process. We spent three days at the aquarium, aiming and programming scenes for the big tanks during the day and working on the exterior spaces at night. Inside the aquarium buildings, our efforts resulted in increased fish activity closer to the viewing windows and increased vibrance in fish coloration — all due to aiming lights away from viewing windows, decreasing light intensity, and increasing exposure to blue light. In the outside exhibits, our efforts were focused on troubleshooting broken fixtures that had been damaged during Hurricane Ida or had installation issues. Water and light are a tricky pairing – often resulting in electrical issues, unanticipated glare issues, and the mysterious results of reflection/refraction – that’s what makes aquariums so fun and interesting for lighting designers.
We are grateful to have been invited along on the design journey of the Mississippi Aquarium with PGAV, and hope to continue to work with the Mississippi Aquarium as their exhibits evolve over the years to come. With every project, we learn something new. Having now designed lighting at multiple aquariums across the nation, our knowledge continues to grow, and we hope to share this knowledge with the lighting design industry at upcoming conferences.