Manta Ray Viewing Subject of Proposed New Rules
State officials will consider proposed rules seeking to regulate activity at manta ray viewing sites on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi.
Officials with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources say commercial manta ray night snorkeling and diving tours at Makako Bay fronting the Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort in Kona have expanded considerably, and regulation is in order to preserve the resource and prevent dangers posed by overcrowding.
Department officials call the viewing opportunities unique worldwide, with tours conducted in two specific areas where mantas tend to congregate at night to feed on plankton.
Three years ago the US 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 included:
- 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.
The report also noted that operators strive to carry out safe boating practices and there have been no recorded incidents to date.
The department expects to release a draft rule for public comment by early 2016.