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Idaho company seeks special-use permit to bring 'interactive aquarium' to Sunrise Mall

SeaQuest Holdings' plans include exhibits with stingrays, caimans and other creatures, but violations in other states and concerns about the animals' welfare give some on Oyster Bay's board pause.

Rendering of a proposed interactive wildlife attraction that

Rendering of a proposed interactive wildlife attraction that SeaQuest Holdings wants to open in the Westfield Sunrise Mall in Massapequa. Photo Credit: SeaQuest Holdings

Long Islanders could get the chance to snorkel with stingrays and feed caimans without leaving Nassau County if an Idaho company can secure permits to open an “interactive aquarium” at a Massapequa mall.

SeaQuest Holdings LLC, of Boise, is seeking a special-use permit from Oyster Bay to open a branch of its interactive wildlife facilities at a 27,300-square-foot space in Westfield Sunrise Mall, in the Town of Oyster Bay.

“The idea with the sea quest is to take a journey around five different continents,” Vince Covino, SeaQuest chief executive, told the town board at an Oct. 2 hearing. The experience would “contrast the Caribbean islands with the Egyptian desert and the animals that are found there to go through the Amazon rainforest and Mayan jungles, to experience an Icelandic fishing village,” he said.

Covino told the board that if the company gets approval, SeaQuest could open the $5 million facility in six months. He said the company’s other facilities draw 300,000 to 500,000 visitors each year, many of them children who get to feed the animals.

“They’re learning about conservation, learning about the different animals,” Covino said.

The company has opened in malls in Utah, Texas, Colorado and Nevada, and two more are slated to open this year at malls in California and Florida.

Some of the company’s locations have drawn controversy and protests. The Colorado state agriculture department issued a cease-and-desist order against SeaQuest on July 23 for operating its facility without the proper permits, reported Fox News affiliate KDVR in Denver. KDVR also reported that the company and an employee had been fined for the illegal importation of animals and had failed animal welfare inspections by state regulators. The Las Vegas Review-Journal last year reported that the venue there had been cited for violations by the police department’s animal cruelty division.

“There are problems everywhere SeaQuest goes,” said Stephanie Shaw, manager of corporate affairs at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a Norfolk, Virginia-based animal rights group. “We’re seeing this same situation where there are these reports of animal neglect, failure to follow laws and regulations.”

Town board members asked Covino about the company’s track record in Littleton, Colorado, and elsewhere.

“We’ve always been in compliance with those regulators,” Covino said.

Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino asked Covino about the status of the cease-and-desist order.

“We are meeting with them,” Covino said, adding that SeaQuest had repurposed an aviary at the Littleton, Colorado, location in response to the order. “We told them that we do believe that it is a safe environment.”

Covino also told the board that his brother Ammon, with whom he ran a now-shuttered aquarium in Portland, Oregon, “is not in any way connected to SeaQuest.” Ammon Covino pleaded guilty in 2013 to federal charges of attempting to illegally ship protected sharks and rays.

The board will vote on the application at a later date.

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