MARATHON, Florida Keys — You shouldn’t feed reef fish while snorkeling or diving in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary because it disrupts their natural behavior, but that activity is encouraged at the Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters.
Visitors to the middle Florida Keys can enjoy the immersive experience with reef fish, invertebrates, stingrays and even sharks.
The signature feature of the multimillion-dollar facility, located near the foot of the Vaca Cut Bridge at 11710 Overseas Highway (mile marker 53 gulfside), is a coral reef exhibit and shark habitat housed in a massive 200,000-gallon interconnected saltwater aquarium for viewing.
As a hands-on interactive learning center, the unique attraction strives to inform visitors about the importance of marine conservation while they discover the complex underwater habitats of the Florida Keys.
Following an instructional presentation, participants in the flagship 90-minute encounter can immerse themselves in the tank to hover over an artificial coral reef structure and interact with tropical reef fish, rays and other reef-dwelling marine species that are part of the in-tank ecosystem.
The encounter utilizes tethered diving technology, enabling individuals without any prior scuba experience to enjoy the in-water opportunity with supervision from trained professional dive instructors. A fortified Plexiglas window divides the coral reef tank from a shark and predatory fish tank, and participants can safely hand-feed these creatures through small underwater feeding ports in the wall.
Other interactive aquarium encounters include shallow touch tanks that feature starfish, conchs and horseshoe crabs, and allow feeding debarbed stingrays and docile baby nurse sharks. At each encounter, a staff marine biologist provides educational introduction and guidance.
Visitors also can snorkel in a shallow protected lagoon, enjoy refreshments from an on-site concession café, browse the open-air gift shop and even purchase a video of their experience.
Aquarium Encounters information and rates: floridakeysaquariumencounters.com
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
Marathon visitor information: fla-keys.com/marathon or 1-800-262-7284
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