Meet the Humans of the Keys

Meet the Humans of the Keys

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Ben Daughtry, Aquarium Encounters


Ben Daughtry, Aquarium Encounters
11710 Overseas Hwy, Marathon
"I was born in Key West; I am a local, a Conch. I have lived here in the Keys my whole life.
I graduated from Marathon High School and then went on to FSU (Florida State University). I studied Criminal Justice, I wanted to work in local law enforcement on the water down here, but when I was 1 semester shy of earning my degree, I learned that you had to meet certain vision requirements to be in law enforcement and I am blind without contacts. I would not be able to get a job doing what I wanted to do, what I had been studying. Everything happens for a reason.
I came back to the Keys after college and went back to work with Dynasty Marine Assoc. I had worked with them in High School. I had known Forrest Young, president and founder of Dynasty; most of my life, his first wife taught me in 2nd grade, I lived 3 houses down from them and I got my first fish for my aquarium from him when I was 7 or 8 years old. He decided to give me a shot when all I really wanted was a job for about 6 months, and it turned into a 18 year career collecting live marine fish for public aquariums all over the world.
Collecting fish for public aquariums allowed me to travel extensively and see many different aquariums in many different places all over the world. It had been a dream of mine since visiting Curacao in 1996, right after college graduation, and we saw the Curacao Aquarium. Dutch, our friend in Curacao, has built, with his own 2 hands, quite an amazing aquarium. Within that aquarium was an opportunity to get in the water and swim with all different kinds of animals and, through a piece of acrylic, feed big sharks. I thought that was the most amazing dive I had ever had.
I didn't sleep that night. It started me thinking about what a great opportunity it would be to do something like that here in the Florida Keys, my home town. The dream started in 1996 to build Aquarium Encounters! Here it is. Nothing here is original, I took ideas from aquariums all over the world, but it works and it is interactive, fun, an amazing experience for people.
There is nothing more rewarding for me than seeing other families come here and see the wonder in their kids eyes and the joy in parent's eyes when they see their kid pet a sting ray, or if they are able to get in a tank with the animals. They get to be immersed in this experience.
I have a beautiful wife and 2 boys that get to come here and enjoy this. I take my boys to daycare every morning and we come here before daycare and walk the grounds and hang out for about a half hour a couple of times a week. It is great to be able to share this and that time with my family, my sons."


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