Florida Keys: Swimming with the Mobula Rays at Aquarium Encounters
23 Apr 2018
Have you ever wanted to swim in a coral reef with mobula rays and tropical fish, but were afraid to do it in open waters? Ya, me too. Something about being out in the open seas sparks the fear in me. I’m sure I am not alone here. It’s why Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters was so intriguing.
Located in Marathon near mile marker 53, Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters in the Florida Keys offers it’s visitors several unique experiences in a protected environment, with marine biologist and knowledgeable staff to help educate you on the Florida Keys marine ecosystem.
“The primary purpose of Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters is to educate visitors on the unique marine ecosystem that we treasure here in the fabulous Florida Keys. Our mission is to provide both education and discovery of the fragile and complex nature of local marine habitats found in the Florida Keys.”
Going to School
Before undertaking in any of the unique experiences at Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters, you need to take a quick class, which involves a briefing by a dive Instructor, and watching an educational video about the Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and what to expect during your Coral Reef Snorkel aquarium encounter. Don’t worry, the video is quite interesting, and will greatly help you with your aquarium encounters!
Once you have attended class, you are escorted over to get fitted for a wet suit.
It is suggested that you take a shower in the provided shower rooms prior to being outfitted for your wetsuit. Once you are finished, you head over to the coral reef tank, and the instructor will set you up with a wetsuit and your snorkelling gear (fins, mask, and snorkel).
Once you have your wetsuit on, and you have been shown how to put on and use your snorkelling gear, you are ready to climb into the tank.
Snorkelling in the Coral Reef Tank
From our group, only the girls decided to swim in the coral reef tank. I stayed on dry land so I could get some video and photographic coverage. Somebody had to take one for the team!
Although I did not go in the tank, I was able to get some great photos and video of the experience.
Feeding the Sharks!
Part two of the snorkelling experience was feeding the sharks in the adjoining tank. The shark tank and coral reef tank are separated by plexiglass, allowing the snorkelers to get an up close and personal view of the salt water predators.
The sharks are fed through small holes at the top of the plexiglass, for safety reasons.
There were so many sharks and large fish in the shark tank. You can walk almost completely around the shark tank to get a better look.
I was able to get this video towards the end of the coral reef encounter:
Once the girls were out of the tank, they changed out of their wetsuits and snorkelling gear, so that we could explore the rest of the Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters.
The entire coral reef tank experience takes approximately 60 minutes, with 25 of those minutes in the tank. Included with the package is a group shot before exiting the tank.
Across the Lagoon
Across the floating walkways are Stingray Cove, Goliath Basin, Nurse-ry Encounter, Big Shark Bay, Touch Tank, and Eagle Ray Café.
This is a Lionfish. Although kinda cool looking, they are known to be quite destructive to the ocean in the Florida area, and are now a specialty item offered at some Florida Keys’ restaurants.
This Stingray kept swimming over to the edge of the pool. It is so used to seeing people that it comes over to the edge and “waves”.
If you head over to the Freshwater Turtle Bayou and Tortoise Territory, you can check out the freshwater turtles and the African spurs…
and these big iguanas.
After checking out the turtles and iguanas, make sure to check out the American Alligators. It was kinda cool to see these bad boys up close and personal.
Map of the Park
Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters has made it easy for you to locate all of the attractions and fun Aquarium Encounters with a handy park map.
The park is easy to navigate, with directional signs everywhere you turn. Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters staff are everywhere, and willing to guide you to the next exhibit.
For those with mobility concerns, Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters is completely accessible. From what I could see, there wasn’t a part of the park that you could not access in a wheelchair or power operated mobility scooter. I thought this was really awesome!
Eagle Ray Café
There is a snack bar available, with a patio and small play area for kids, with a beautiful view of Vaca Cut bridge.
There are a lot of seats available to sit and relax with a bite to eat or a cold drink.
Location and Hours
Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters is located at:
11710 Overseas Highway
Marathon, Florida 33050
Phone: (305) 407-3262
Open 9:00am to 5:00pm, 7 Days a week.
Get Social with Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters
A special thank you to Sabrina for allowing me to use her pictures of the lionfish, turtles, alligators, and iguanas in this post.