KEAUHOU, Hawaii – The increasingly popular manta ray night dives off Keauhou have gotten the attention of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. The DLNR Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation is investigating the tour operations taking place and proposing new rules to further regulate manta tour activities for safety and for the environment. We interviewed manta expert Keller Laros on the situation out on the water last year.
October 19, 2015
HONOLULU – The popularity of manta ray viewing sites at Makako Bay (Garden Eel Cove) along the coastline fronting the Sheraton Keauhou Bay on the Big Island’s Kona coast has captured media, state and federal attention. These manta ray viewing opportunities are unique worldwide and tours are conducted in two specific areas where mantas tend to congregate at night to feed on plankton. In recent years it has come to the attention of the DLNR that commercial manta ray night snorkeling and diving at these two popular sites has expanded considerably and the activity is in need of regulation in order to preserve the resource and prevent the dangers posed by overcrowding. The DLNR Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR) is actively engaged in responsibly investigating the tour operations taking place and working to further regulate manta tour activities for safety and for the environment.
Three years ago the U.S. Coast Guard worked with commercial dive tour operators to draft voluntary safety standards to which the operators currently adhere. In early 2014, DLNR began facilitating tour operator working groups to develop a consensus on the aspects of manta ray viewing operations in greatest need of attention. This includes assessing whether additional moorings could be installed to mitigate anchor damage, and limiting the number of operators allowed to conduct manta night dives and snorkeling. This year in preparation for developing new administrative rules for the manta viewing sites, DLNR commissioned a third-party safety assessment of operations. That report identified a number of potential hazards to people such as live boating, multiple boats tying to a single mooring and insufficient lighting for divers and snorkelers in the water. It also noted that operators strive to carry out safe boating practices and there have been no recorded incidents to date. Collectively, commercial operators are open to making changes that will improve the user experience and safety without sacrificing the quality of the resources they’re utilizing.
DOBOR administrator Ed Underwood said, “We’re working closely with the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR), commercial tour operators, the staff of the Sheraton Keauhou Bay and other stakeholders to draft administrative rules to mitigate safety and environmental hazards and decrease the potential risk for a boating accident. DOBOR anticipates releasing a draft rule for public comment by early 2016.”