(BIVN) – The Hawaiʻi Board of Land and Natural Resources on Thursday voted to move forward with the creation of new rules for commercial manta ray viewing at two locations off Kona.
The rules, which would be in place for Makako Bay (also known as Garden Eel Cove) and Kaukalaelae Point (also known as Keauhou Bay) within the West Hawai‘i Ocean Recreation Management Area, would be “the first of their kind in Hawai‘i”, officials say.
“There are currently no laws or rules that regulate manta ray diving or viewing activities,” the Department of Land and Natural Resources says. “This has led to overcrowding and associated safety concerns and user conflicts, and environmental impacts.”
The proposed rules were presented and discussed at the October 27 board meeting. They include:
- A limit on the number of commercial viewing permits allowed at Makako Bay and Kaukalaelae Point. 24 permits would be allowed at each of the two designated zones.
- Vessels would be subject to 2-hour-long shifts in each zone.
- Boats would be allowed to carry no more than 60 passengers for hire within a single 24-hour period.
- A guide-to-customer ratio of 8-to-1
- Defines manta ray viewing hours from 4:00 p.m.- 4:00 a.m. the next day
- Specific permits at a fixed monthly fee of $300.00, in addition to commercial use permit fees
- Safety requirements including specific vessel lighting, propeller guards or safety lookout
- No fishing in the zones during manta ray viewing hours
- Display of capital “M” on both sides of vessels
- Strict penalties for violations by commercial operators
DLNR Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation Administrator Ed Underwood told the land board that DOBOR has already had “years years of lengthy discussions with commercial manta ray viewing activity operators,” concerning the crowded conditions at the popular viewing sites.
Speaking before the land board on Thursday, many existing manta tour operators took issue with certain proposed rules. They agreed, however, that the protection of the hāhālua (manta ray), as well as public safety, was the primary concern.
The next step following Thursday’s BLNR approval will be public hearings, with dates yet to be announced.
DOBOR is also proposing the official creation of two designated manta ray viewing zones at Makako Bay and Kaukalaelae Point.