A trip taken more than 10 years ago to Curacao, an island off the coast of Venezuela, sparked an idea in the mind of Marathon resident Ben Daughtry that is finally becoming a reality.
Daughtry operates Dynasty Marine Associates Inc. of Marathon along with his business partner, Forrest Young. Together they are building a public aquarium where visitors will be able to interact with the sea creatures on display.
In fact, according to the duo, visitors will have the opportunity to handle, feed and even swim with some of the residents.
The yet-to-be-named attraction is being developed at U.S. 1 and 117th Street.
The design calls for tiki-hut-style buildings, the largest of which will house a 175,000-gallon tank with a viewing window.
The aquarium will be home to several species of fish, sharks and rays.
It will also feature various touch tanks to encourage visitors to pick up and learn about creatures such as horseshoe crabs and starfish.
It's likely there will be a tank dedicated solely to stingrays, affording patrons the opportunity to touch and feed them.
According to Daughtry, who was born and raised in the Keys, interactive encounters "use almost all of your senses and create a very strong learning experience."
The co-founders hope to raise awareness of our marine neighbors through playful education and to show people that "our marine ecosystem is worth saving."
Local schools can expect the co-founders to partner with them by arranging field trips to educate youths about conservation and preservation.
"It's our duty to do things for the community and the kids," Dougherty said.
Young and Daughtry are soliciting help from the community in naming the facility.
The person who suggests the winning name will earn free admission, for a year, for a family of four.
Visit floridakeysanimalencounters.com to learn more and submit suggestions.