With construction of the new Tybee Island Marine Science Center almost complete, the beachside institution began welcoming visitors at its freshly built location on Feb. 18 with the official opening of their gift shop, while its exhibition spaces are expected to debut later this spring. According to Cathy Sakas, president of the Tybee Island Marine Science Center’s Board of Trustees, the organization has been working toward building this new facility for the past 15 years, after operating out of the beach town’s former police station near Tybee’s pier since 1988. The new building is located by Tybee Island’s North Beach, and was purpose-built as a marine-science education center at a cost of $3.5 million. “This move has been a long time coming, but well worth the wait,” Sakas said, while expressing gratitude to Tybee’s government for the use of their former location, even if by the time they closed it, “you could see daylight through some of the walls.” The new building is sited on two plots of beachfront property worth $2 million that were donated to the center by Dave and Martha Makel and the Fleetwood Family, according to Sakas. With its modern architecture, earth-toned exterior, and sweeping oceanfront views, the new facility was designed to blend in with its surroundings after consulting with area residents. “Fortunately, what the community wanted to see was exactly what we wanted,” Sakas said, adding that the facility is elevated to withstand storm surges. The ground level will eventually become an open-air classroom for visiting school groups, and the building also houses a 4,600-gallon water tank for loggerhead sea turtles, which are occasionally kept by the center for up to two years before being released into the ocean. The center’s new gift shop features numerous marine-related stuffed animals ranging from sharks to flamingos to octopuses, as well as ocean-focused coloring books, wildlife guides, puzzles, and other intriguing curiosities – including an initial display of three box turtles and a snake. Proceeds from gift-shop sales benefit the ongoing development of the remaining exhibit spaces, Sakas said. The center’s West Gallery expected to open on March 25, followed by East Gallery’s planned opening on May 1. Meanwhile, visitors can already step up to the loft level sponsored by the Georgia Ports Authority to enjoy vistas over the nearby shoreline, with two telescopes available for public use. “The view from up there is spectacular,” Sakas said. The gift shop is currently open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Thursday through Sunday. Visit tybeemarinescience.org for more details about the Tybee Island Marine Science Center.