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THE KONA MANTA RAY NIGHT DIVE

The Kona 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 and awe.

Onlookers 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 mesmerized divers.

Popularity 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!

Click here for a list of our local dive operators who can take you out for this exciting dive!

CONSERVATION GUIDELINES AND LEFTY’S 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 1990’s, 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 diver’s 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 PADI’s 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.

 

GUIDELINES FOR YOUR MANTA RAY ENCOUNTER

1. 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 doesn’t benefit the animal in anyway.

2. 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.

3. SNORKELER POSITION: Snorkelers please stay on the surface. Do not dive down into the water column where the mantas are feeding.

4. LIGHTS: Divers please shine lights up into the water column to attract plankton. Snorkelers please shine lights down.

5. BUBBLES: Divers please avoid exhaling bubbles directly into the manta’s face.

6. 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 Lefty’s 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 6’ across.
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 Ho’ona 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.