A local group is looking for qualified consultants to do a feasibility study for a permanent catch-and-release aquarium in the Halifax Regional Municipality.
The Back to the Sea Society has been running the Touch Tank Hut at Alderney Landing for the past three years, giving Haligonians and visitors the opportunity to interact with local sea life.
"It's a miniature marine interpretive centre. We have two large tanks with a bunch of local invertebrates, like sea stars, urchins and a variety of crabs," said the registered charity's founder, Magali Grégoire. "People can come in and have a feel or just a look and learn all about them."
The Touch Tank Hut -- located in a 200 square-foot building -- has had over 10,000 visitors since opening its doors in the summer of 2017.
Grégoire said the bright teal hut will be returning for a fourth season this summer, but the society would like to eventually expand to a permanent facility.
"We really see a want and a need in the community for something larger that can showcase not only invertebrates, but also some finned fish and the different, cool animal life that we have in our oceans," she said.
Grégoire would like an aquarium in HRM modelled after similar facilities in Ucluelet, British Columbia and Petty Harbour, Newfoundland.
"They're about 2,300 square feet of exhibit space, so we'd like something similar to that," she told NEWS 95.7's The Sheldon MacLeod Show.
"We'd like to have a two-storey building to have decent office space, as well as programming space on location," she added. "Because we really see a high demand from teachers as well as clubs like the Girl Scouts and Sparks to be able to come to the facility and do more marine education."
The new facility would maintain the current collect-hold-and-release philosophy of the Touch Tank Hut.
The society currently starts collecting local shallow-dwelling sea critters in the spring, displays them over the summer, then releases them back into the ocean in the fall, but if there was a permanent space, that cycle would be done periodically throughout the year.
Grégoire said, even though kids can watch YouTube videos on sea creatures, it can't replace being able to interact with the real thing.
"You really see that spark, in not only children's eyes but in adults' eyes as well when they get to feel a little sea star," she explained.
"People who have grown up with the ocean as their backyard their whole lives don't realize the diversity of life there is down there."
Grégoire believes when people have a better idea what's under our water surface, they'll be inspired to protect it, especially with a growing awareness of climate change and the environmental impact of plastics.
In order to move forward with a permanent facility, the feasibility study will need to include a financial analysis report, complete with recommended building specifications and environmental/accessibility considerations.
Once the society gets the results of the study, members plan to approach all three levels of government, along with corporations, to help secure funding.
"One way the public can help is to continue to come visit our location this summer, and continue to make donations, because that not only helps the Touch Tank Hut reopen, but it definitely helps the project down the road," Grégoire said.
Ideally, Grégoire would like the aquarium to stay in downtown Dartmouth.
"We've been welcomed there by the community, by Alderney Landing that offers us this space, and we're seeing a lot of change happening in that area," she said. "We'd like to be able to fit into that change."