KONA MANTA RAY NIGHT DIVE
Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii is perhaps the best place on earth
to see manta rays up close and personal. In lighted waters along the
coast, manta rays congregate nightly to feed. After dark, millions of
miniscule organisms are attracted to the glow. As thick clouds of these
microscopic animals gather, manta rays come to feed on this favorite
food. With cavernous mouths opened wide, manta rays gracefully glide,
pivot, and somersault as they feast. Here in Kona, divers descend into
the watery darkness to observe this nightly feeding ritual with respect
from hotel balconies to restaurant lanais have watched this manta ray
ballet for years. Starting in the mid-eighties, dive boat operators
occasionally took scuba divers underwater to view this manta dance.
By 1991, the shy, harmless manta rays learned that the divers
lights also attracted the tiny, free swimming organisms. With wing spans
up to sixteen feet across, these gentle giants began soaring above the
in this dive grew rapidly and now thousands of divers and snorkelers
each year are exhilarated by the experience of being so close to these
large ocean animals. The Kona Manta Ray Night Dive is a thrilling experience
for all those who seek adventure!
GUIDELINES AND LEFTYS STORY
Before the Kona Manta Ray Night Dive became so popular, few people went
scuba diving at night with the manta rays. For years, hotels and restaurants
along the coast would shine bright lights into the water to offer romantic
views to guests. This light attracted plankton, the plankton attracted
the mantas. The Kona Surf Hotel that opened in 1971 was one of these
places. In the early 1990s, dive operators began leading divers
in the waters off the Kona Surf with repeated success of manta sightings.
During the early days, some divers would reach up and pet the passing
mantas. As the number of divers increased, petting increased. In 1992,
the first year that the dive gained popularity, we began noticing pink
patches on the undersides of the mantas. Our search for manta information
led us to the Waikiki Aquarium where one of their marine scientists
informed us that many sea creatures have a thin coating of protective
mucous on their skin and this mucous can be rubbed off.
Because the divers underwater light attracted a dense cloud of
food, the mantas would come very close to individual divers to optimize
their feeding opportunity. Back then, most mantas would endure some
contact by the divers to get at the concentrated food source. Each manta
seemed to have its own tolerance level for the amount of human touching
they would endure. Some mantas left after the first touch. Most mantas
tolerated some touching and then would leave. One named Lefty endured
petting more than most.
Lefty was the first manta ray we ever got to know. She was easy to identify
from the others because of her broken left cephalic fin. The fin hangs
unfurled and limp and often times it blocks half of her mouth forcing
the flow of water and food away. Consequently, we consider her feeding
challenged. Because of this, we believe Lefty stayed and fed in
the abundance of food provided by the divers even though she was rubbed
repeatedly. Sensing a need to protect Lefty and the other mantas, respected
people from the dive community came together and produced a set of conservation
guidelines for the Kona Manta Ray Night Dive.
Originally drafted by The Ocean Recreation Council of Hawaii and PADIs
Project AWARE (Aquatic World Awareness, Responsibility, and Education),
the following updated version of these guidelines are set forth for
all divers on the Kona Manta Ray Night Dive.
FOR YOUR MANTA RAY ENCOUNTER
OBSERVE ONLY: No touching. Resist the urge to "pet"
the mantas. This will rub off their protective mucus coating.
Do not chase, grab, or try to take a ride on the mantas. This
doesnt benefit the animal in anyway.
DIVER POSITION: Divers please stay on or near the sand,
rubble or boulder bottom. An open water column is necessary
for the mantas to maneuver. Avoid contact with coral, sea urchins,
or other marine life. Form a semi-circle with your group.
SNORKELER POSITION: Snorkelers please stay on the surface.
Do not dive down into the water column where the mantas are
LIGHTS: Divers please shine lights up into the water column
to attract plankton. Snorkelers please shine lights down.
BUBBLES: Divers please avoid exhaling bubbles directly into
the mantas face.
TAKING PHOTOS or VIDEO: Photographers and videographers
please be considerate of others. Adhere to these guidelines
and let the mantas come to you.
Dive operators enforced these guidelines with their dive groups
immediately and soon Leftys pink patches healed. Over
a decade later, she is as healthy as ever and one of the most
consistent dinner guests on the Kona Manta Ray Night Dive.
Over the years, other manta rays have benefited from the abundance
of food offered on the night dive. A large female, Righty, had
a monofilament line wrapped around her right cephalic fin when
we first noticed her in 1993. A red fleshy slash showed where
the line had tightened until it was cutting the fin off causing
it to hang down. When she stopped coming around, we feared that
she had died from her injury. Thankfully in 1995, she returned
with a healed, yet mangled cephalic fin.
In October 1994, Baby Huey joined the Kona group and was approximately
4 across. He was seen almost every night until January
1996. In that time, it seemed that he increased in size to approximately
In August 1995, a young manta ray named Taz joined the group.
He was named after the Tasmanian Devil because he moved so fast.
At first, he was shy and would not feed with the larger rays.
After two weeks, he had learned that the divers lights
offered an excellent concentration of food and he could approach
the divers without being touched. In the following months, he
became a nightly dinner guest beneath the lights of the Kona
Surf Resort and thrived.
Since 1999, many more mantas have been sighted at the Hoona
Bay/Garden Eels site. Young mantas such as Sugar Ray, Fay Ray,
and Vicky Ray were shy at first, but when they realized the
environment was safe, they willingly began to feed. Large females
like Lefty and Bertha continue to frequent the night feeding
area year after year as well.
With guidelines in place and enforced by the Kona dive community,
the Kona Manta Ray Dive gives local rays a good feeding opportunity.
Because the mantas show up consistently night after night, year
after year, we have been able to accurately identify individuals
and gather local population data. This data has been a starting
point for a scientific project conducted by foremost manta researcher
Tim Clark from the University of Hawaii. In 2002, Tim began
a manta tracking project and we will undoubtedly learn a great
deal from his study.
Our hope is to continue interacting with the local manta population
in a respectful manner so that we can continue collecting valuable
data. Manta Pacific Research Foundation was formed so that we
can continue to conduct research, produce educational materials,
provide education programs for the public, and work on manta
ray conservation. One of our goals is to supply these conservation
guidelines for everyone who goes on the Kona Manta Ray Night
Dive. By following a few simple guidelines, manta rays will
continue to be unaffected by our desire to see one of the greatest
creatures in the ocean.