The Denver Aquarium has a new plan to lure visitors to its waters. It is letting young visitors snorkel or scuba dive with the fish.

Until now, the closest visitors could get to the aquatic life was viewing it through glass or maybe reaching into a touch-tank with feet planted firmly on the ground.

With the new program children can suit up, grab a snorkel and dive in to get up close and personal with a 300 pound grouper.

Gretchen Guerra signed her children up for the program.

“They are so excited, they have huge butterflies in their stomachs and they are pretty nervous,” she said as her children Ty and Graci were getting set to dive in.

Ty and Graci paid close attention as they got snorkeling lessons from Todd Hall, the aquarium’s dive safety officer.

The children in the program need to be at least six years old and able to swim, but no previous experience is needed.

“We get kids who have never seen the ocean before,” Hall said.

Once the children are ready, they head into the waters where underwater guides like Shane Taylor help the children understand the fish.

“One of the highlights of the program is being on the inside looking out at the guests and their families and friends,” he said. “And being on display or the star of the exhibit.”

For the Denver Aquarium, encouraging guests to mingle with the sea creatures is a new direction under the new ownership.

“What we did when we bought the facility was invest in it,” said general manager Scot Hulgan. “Re-theme some things and add a lot of animals and enhance the overall guest experience when they come here.”

And the work is paying off — attendance at the Denver Aquarium is at an all-time high.

It’s easy to see why when youngsters like Graci are out selling the program.

“It’s really cool because you get to see all the sea animals up really close,” she said. “I didn’t want to get out.”

The underwater programs aren’t just for children either. In addition to the “Swim with the Fish” program, certified scuba divers can also “Dive with the Fish” or “Dive with the Sharks.”

But in addition to getting visitors, the aquarium is also teaching new respect for the underwater world in an area more than 1,000 miles away from any coastline.

“We’re in a lot of ways hurting the ocean quicker than it can rebuild itself,” Hall said.

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