The Back to the Sea program is bringing the depths of the ocean to eye level with a miniature aquarium called the Touch Tank Hut at Alderney Landing in Dartmouth, N.S.

The pilot project was initiated to encourage ocean conservation and to introduce people to sea creatures like hermit crabs, sea urchins, mussels and sand dollars.

“Sometimes people think that it's only in warm tropical waters that we have bright colours and really cool animals, but we have a lot of cool stuff here as well,” says Back to the Sea founder, Magali Gregoire. “So by showcasing it to people, then we really get them to care about those animals. and then that caring will lead to them wanting to protect it.”

Gregoire says she founded the Back to the Sea program in an effort to get Haligonians talking about conserving the ocean.

She says the Touch Tank Hut will be open every weekend in August, serving as a vessel for those looking to see a completely new side of the ocean.

“It's kinda pokey but he's moving at the same time. It's pretty neat,” says visitor Michele Gervais, while holding a green sea urchin in the palm of her hand.

Gervais says she discovered her new favourite sea creature at the Touch Tank Hut: the sand dollar.

“You can see the little feet moving,” she says. “I didn't expect it to have all these little like, sensors on the bottom.”

Guides at the Touch Tank Hut are trained to help introduce guests of all ages to the sea animals, without hurting them or tiring them out.

“We do a little pinky swear rule, where we ask the kids to touch really gently with their pinkies so that they stay healthy and we don't stress them out,” Gregoire says.

The initiative is currently crowd funded but, Gregoire says she hopes to have a permanent structure at Alderney Landing next season.

“Our goal is really to get a seasonal, permanent aquarium, with always the philosophy of catch and release, so only animals that fit into that philosophy,” Gregoire says.

Gregoire says the project will send the sea creatures back to their home in the ocean at the end of the summer season.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Emily Baron Cadloff.