At the start of this new year, I’d like to take you back to all the wonderful and not-so-wonderful things that happened in the past year.
2022 was a strange year here in Hawaii with stormy weather and a fatal accident, but we also had fun with a “toddler” manta and a heavy metal manta ray video. And I finally got a chance to write about what it’s really all about: the near-magical effect manta rays have on people who get to experience them in real life.
This was our year at Manta Ray Advocates!
January: why the manta ray swim is not for children
In 2021, we had a couple of situations arise in which young children were set to join us on a manta ray swim… and then they didn’t. Either they couldn’t pay attention during the safety briefing, or they didn’t fully understand what was about to happen, or they just got plain scared about swimming in the dark with giant fish.
These situations weren’t just terrible for those kids and their parents – they were awkward for everyone present, guests and guides.
This prompted us to raise the minimum age for children to go on a manta ray swim with us from ten (10) to twelve (12) years old.
→ Read more here about why we did that!
Is Swimming with Manta Rays Safe for Children? Why We Don’t Take Kids Under 12 Years Old
February – stormy ocean conditions
In February, we experienced adverse ocean conditions with swells, large waves, and poor visibility. Of course, we already know winter is not the best time to swim with manta rays (I had already written an article about it in 2020, check it out here).
Over the course of 7 weeks in January and February 2022, we could only take guests out to swim with manta rays for three nights. It felt a bit like a vacation, except for one where I wasn’t going anywhere because I hadn’t actually planned for a trip.
It did inspire me to write an article about the ocean forecast and how to determine if the water is safe enough to go swimming. And it also motivated me to plan for an actual vacation and take some time to visit my family in Germany in February 2023.
Ocean Safety – Why it Matters & How to Check the Ocean Forecast
March: a musical collaboration – for the good of the mantas
At the beginning of the year, I was approached by Priyam Srivastava, a musician from San Francisco – the drummer and founder of a heavy metal band, no less.
They were about to publish their newest instrumental track called “manta” and wanted to know if I was interested in collaborating on the music video.
The Second Fovea (that’s the name of the band) aims to create music that brings about a positive change in the world… and isn’t that exactly what we’ve been trying to do here at Manta Ray Advocates?
→ Check out the post I wrote about creating a heavy metal video that’s meant to raise awareness about the threats the manta rays face!
The Ban of the Full-Face Snorkeling Mask
There are two different types of snorkeling masks: what we call a “classic” mask (where mask and snorkel come separately), and “full-face masks”, which seemed like a great product when they first came out.
Soon though, we started to have some doubts about their use. Many of the guests who come on our moonlight manta swim don’t snorkel regularly and might have read or heard that a full-face mask would make snorkeling easier, and they’re exactly the type of snorkelers who should use the (much safer) classic mask.
There are multiple issues with full-face snorkeling masks – it’s hard to communicate with such a mask on, they often leak or fog up, and in some cases, they’ve even been known to restrict the breathing of the person wearing it.
→ Read more about why we have banned the full-face snorkeling masks from our manta ray moonlight swim on this page!
Why we Banned Full-Face Snorkeling Masks from our Manta Ray Activities
April: a devastating death in the ocean advocates “family”
On April 4th, Theresa Butts, a swim guide accompanying a group of tourists off a manta ray boat tour, got caught underneath the boat while attempting to secure the vessel to a mooring ball. While manta rays regularly get injured by boats’ propellers (very bad in itself!), this was the first accident with fatal consequences to a human (that we know of).
I feel strongly this is an accident that could have been avoided. At Manta Ray Advocates, we’ve been advocating for better rules and regulations for over a decade.
- We participated in the creation of Manta Tour Business Operator Standards
- I wrote a guide to swimming with manta rays to help people prepare for the experience
- I wrote multiple articles discussing the issue on the website and regularly post about it on social media
- We also launched a Greenlist of boat operators that adhere to the guidelines, as a part of the Hawaii Ocean Watch initiative to better support boat operators making the effort
We do not directly benefit from better regulations for manta ray tourism (we don’t swim in the same area as where the boats are), but bad conduct affects the manta rays, other marine life, and the whole community.
We feel strongly that the safety of guests AND staff AND marine life should not be left up to chance, or up to how far a company is willing to compromise.
Theresa’s death was horrible and tragic, and I believe it was also absolutely unnecessary. Our thoughts have been going out to her friends and family.
→ Find their gofundme page here!
Kamala Ray: how a baby manta grew into a “toddler”
Besides sad and devastating stories like Theresa’s, there’s also room for hope. And in the past year, that came in the form of a baby manta “growing up”.
Two days before Thanksgiving 2021, we had the privilege of meeting the smallest manta ray we’d ever seen. She was tiny – for a manta ray: newborn reef mantas are usually around two to three feet (around 60-90 centimeters) from one fin tip to the other. This baby manta was about 2.5 feet.
Pups are born wrapped up like a burrito, and when the wings unfold, birth wrinkles or fetal folds are visible. Not sure how long it takes for the wrinkles to get evened out; even months later, we still see them.
→ I’m collecting the pictures of the baby manta over time on this page.
(For just a minute) I will talk politics …
One of my favorite things about meeting new manta rays is that we get to name them.
The first sightings of the baby manta took place shortly after the US Presidential Election of 2020 when Kamala Harris became the first woman, the first Black American, and the first South Asian American to be elected Vice President of the United States.
I admire Kamala Harris for her leadership and breaking of the glass ceiling, and I had wanted to name a manta ray “Kamala” … So when we discovered that this baby was a girl we had no choice but to call her “Kamala Ray”.
As a passionate activist, environmentalist, and animal lover, I am gravely concerned by the ongoing threats our planet faces. As the narrative is being shaped by those with the loudest and most organized messaging, I continue to have high expectations for VP Harris’ influence on national and international (environmental) politics in the upcoming years.
And as a woman, it is thrilling to see a strong female leader step up to (almost) the highest level of power in the US of A.
Kamala Ray is thriving!
Not only did we have the privilege to meet Kamala Ray when she was just born, we can also report that she stayed in Kauna’oa Bay for most of 2022.
She came to feed around the lights over two hundred times over the course of the year.
Kamala Ray is thriving and has grown from “pup” to “toddler” with a wingspan of about 4 feet (120 cm).
Why Swimming with Mantas is Such a Life-Changing Experience
Earlier this year, I really enjoyed (finally) pulling the feelings I had about the spiritual experience of swimming with manta rays out of my head and into a blog post.
I was reading a book by Brené Brown called “The Atlas of the Heart”, and what made the biggest impression on me was when she said the “best” feelings are awe and wonder. It makes more sense to me now why people are exuberantly happy when they encounter manta rays… on every occasion they get.
With so much happening in 2022, we can’t wait to see what 2023 brings. We at Manta Ray Advocates wish you all a very happy new year and can’t wait to welcome you on one of our manta ray moonlight swims!