Keller Laros and Governor Linda Lingle
PATH to PROTECTION
After about a decade of doing the manta dive, it was time for protection. In 2002, we learned that a growing demand for dried manta gills in Asian markets had led to manta rays being fished aggressively throughout the Pacific. Fearful that the Kona manta population had no protection, Manta Pacific Research Foundation embarked on a journey to protect the rays in Hawaii. By 2003, there were thousands of tourists diving and snorkeling with manta rays in Hawaii annually and there were about a dozen charter operators that conducted the dive. The increasing numbers of manta tour participants created our base of support when the time came to get manta rays protected in Hawaii. It seemed it was in everyone’s best interest to protect the manta rays.
In 2003, we received the endorsement of the West Hawaii Fisheries Council to protect manta rays. Unfortunately the monetary penalties that the Council could assess were insignificant and wouldn’t serve to deter people from fishing for mantas. We spent the next couple of years planning our strategy to determine the best method of getting mantas protected. We explored administrative rules that the State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) could enact. However we found little interest or support from DLNR.
In 2005, one of our local State legislators introduced House Bill 960 that would protect manta rays. It wasn’t even heard in committee. The powers in Honolulu weren’t concerned. This was frustrating because we felt that the Kona mantas were vulnerable to being killed because of the increasing demand for manta parts in Asia. Additionally, mantas rays had become extremely important to commercial tourism, the number one industry in Hawaii. Most importantly manta rays are such rare and unique creatures we felt very strongly that they should be protected for purely existential reasons.
In 2006, we again attempted to have manta rays protected through legislative action. This time we had local television news personalities snorkel with manta rays and they became instant advocates. They broadcasted the story on local news programs and this helped to raise awareness. We also gathered more then 5,600 signatures on a petition in support for manta ray protection. We had people write testimony and children submit letters and pictures. In 2006, House Bill 960 to protect manta rays was reintroduced with a broader base of support. During the resulting committee hearings, the committee passed House Resolution 30 that directed the Department of Land and Natural Resources to study manta rays and create a management plan. Failing that, it was incumbent on the legislature to take action.
Throughout 2006, 2007 and 008, the Scientific Advisor of Manta Pacific Research Foundation repeatedly reached out to the Division of Aquatic Resources of the Department of Land and Natural Resources in an attempt to fulfill House Resolution 30. He had no success and as far as we knew, no progress was made by the State of Hawaii DLNR to comply with the resolution.
In 2009, we went back to our local representatives about manta protection in the State of Hawaii. They introduced legislation concurrently in the Hawaii House of Representatives with House Bill 366 and the Hawaii Senate with Senate Bill 394. This time, the bills were widely supported. On June 5, 2009, the Governor of the State of Hawaii signed Act 092(09) making it illegal to kill or capture manta rays in Hawaii. Penalties included up to a $10,000 fine and forfeiture of any manta rays, commercial marine license, vessel, and fishing equipment. This was an extremely rewarding moment for Manta Pacific Research Foundation, all who participate in manta tours, and manta enthusiasts everywhere.