Freebie of the Week

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The Florida Marine Research Institute: Say it out loud — doesn't exactly sound fun, does it? You're probably picturing a building full of pocket-protector-wearing scientists surrounded by tanks of algae and sea sponges, perhaps a few fish, scratching their heads and saying "hmm," as they try to come up with a way to make fuel from bits of coral. Well, maybe in their secret underground lab, but mostly the institute concerns itself with protecting, conserving and managing Florida's marine and coastal resources. Why? Because somebody has to, and you'll learn all about the whos, whats, wheres and why-fors during the institute's seventh annual MarineQuest.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 10, FMRI throws open its doors, affording us the opportunity to tour the four-story facilities, tinker with hands-on exhibits and learn a thing or two about Florida's unique marine habitats. Dozens of scientists with extremely technical and highly intimidating degrees spend the afternoon imparting their wisdom to the masses. Presentations in FMRI's auditorium include Shark Attacks in Florida, Managing Florida's Endangered Manatees and Armchair Whale Watching: Florida Style. The outside stage, meanwhile, offers fun stuff like Tuna-a-Fish, MOSI's Marine Gang and Snook Fishing with the "Mad Snooker."

As for the rest of the facility? It would take pages and pages to describe FMRI's various stations and the wonders that wait at each. A few destined to be family favorites include Manatee Activities, where you can put together a full-size manatee skeleton puzzle; the Necropsy Lab (think: fish guts); and two different Touch Tanks, where you can get your hands on starfish, pipefish, pufferfish, horseshoe crabs and other organisms. As for the kids, fuhgeddaboudit! Face painting, fish painting (gyotaku), wildlife origami, a giant, inflatable, walk-through whale and more educate your tyke under the guise of fun. Better pick up a science desk reference for the barrage of questions from inquisitive young minds.

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