By Erika, age 13

fa_swf_062816_145345059_01_fa0gll31470_fa0gll41471On the afternoon of June 28, at 1:45 pm, at the Florida Aquarium, in Tampa, Florida, I went to the front desk with Mom and Alexa to sign in for the Shark Swim activity. The aquarium website describes it by saying “Swim with the Fishes, an in-water reef experience gives guests 6 and older an adventure on a replica of one of the Florida Keys’ most beautiful coral reef dive sites without being a certified SCUBA diver!” Another girl, Emma (age 12), would also be swimming with us, and there is a maximum of four people, so we just made it in. We were lead by the supervisor, Steve, to the training room, where we would watch a video about the swim, before heading to the lockers. We slowly changed into the tight wetsuits that the Aquarium gave us, and left the locker rooms to head to the employee area of the Coral Reef Gallery.

I quickly befriended Emma, and we decided we would swim together for the entire session. Steve introduced us to Forrest and Nick, who would be our “Master Divers” and monitor our swimming between the shallow and deep tanks. We were given masks and regulators, which are parts of scuba gear.

We were led onto a grate, which was a platform between the two parts of the tank, above the aquarium tunnel. There, we put on our masks and had Nick and Forrest put on our regulators. Nick told us the 3 rules:

  1. Don’t touch the coral (even though it’s fake) or the animals, otherwise people might think it’s okay to touch them in nature
  2. Don’t kick (you might hit the animals)
  3. Have FUN!

After that, he opened the gate and the six of us floated out into the exhibit. It was connected to two main viewing windows and the tunnel. Little kids (and adults) had their mouths in “O”s as they watched us swim with the Porcupinefish , stingrays, and tropical fish. Emma pointed out a nurse shark lying underneath the grate! Swimming with a regulator is really easy, but it took me some time to remember to breathe out. Forrest told us that a regulator was used to make Darth Vader’s breathing sounds! The tank was small, and I swam into a few people (mostly Emma and my mom), but seeing the fish was really cool because I could see their natural behavior without having to be in the ocean. We swam for 20 minutes before Forrest and Nick told us it was time to get out.