Thousands of tourists travel to Kona each year, to experience the manta rays in their natural habitat around the Big Island of Hawaii.
Companies have been offering nighttime swimming and diving tours with mantas since 1991, when one single boat went out once a week. Today, over 50 activity providers offer manta ray tours year-round.
Learn more about the best times to see the Kona mantas here.
We mostly swim with manta rays at night, because underwater lights in the dark ocean attract plankton. A manta’s natural diet is plankton, so over time, the manta rays around Kona have been classically conditioned to anticipate an abundance of food close to lights.
Here at Manta Ray Advocates, we’re trying to educate visitors about sustainable ways to interact with marine life. It’s imperative that manta-human interaction is beneficial for all involved. That’s why participants’ standards were first established in 1993.
Let’s dive in and take a closer look at what (not) to do when you go swimming with manta rays.
5 Basic Rules for Swimming with Manta Rays at Night
Rule #1: Observe Only, Do Not Touch
Do not touch the mantas – resist the urge to “pet” them. Touching a manta ray would rub off their protective mucus coating.
Do not chase, grab, or try to ride the mantas. This does not benefit the animal in any way.
Rule #2: Stay on the Bottom – or on the Surface
Scuba divers must stay on or near the sand, rubble, or boulder bottom. An open water column is necessary for the mantas to maneuver.
Avoid contact with the coral, sea urchins, or other marine life.
Form a semicircle with your group.
Snorkelers must stay on the surface and keep their legs horizontal. Do not dive down into the water column.
Rule #3: Turn Your Lights in the Correct Position
Divers shine lights up into the water column to attract plankton.
Snorkelers shine lights down.
Rule #4: Don’t Blow Bubbles Up to the Manta Rays
Divers: try to time your breathing so that you do not blow bubbles up into the manta if it passes over your head.
Rule #5: Taking Underwater Photos or Video Safely
When taking underwater photos or shooting video while on a swim, be considerate of people and mantas. Minimize your equipment in the water column and let the mantas come to you.
For more practical tips to film or take pictures underwater safely and responsibly, check out our Underwater Photography Guide.
6 Guidelines to Interact with Manta Rays During the Daytime
Chances of encountering manta rays at night in Kona are over 70%, but there is always the possibility to see a manta during the daytime as well.
Swimming with manta rays during the daytime is fundamentally different, as there won’t be any lights gathering plankton and attracting the manta rays.
However, a daytime manta ray dive can be just as fun and life-changing, as long as you follow these six steps to keep interactions safe and sustainable:
- When beginning your dive, make sure that you slip into the water calmly and quietly and keep a moderate distance of 33 feet/10 meters apart from nearby manta rays.
- Make sure your fins stay below the waterline, as you don’t want to scare away manta rays with any unnecessary noise.
- Remain still and allow the mantas to come to you. Passive interaction is always best advised, to keep everyone – including the marine animals- safe.
- Keep the natural water columns open so the manta rays can swim around you without any interference. To do this as a diver, keep low to the sea bed at all times. Snorkelers, stay on the surface.
- Approach manta rays side on, as this gives them a chance to see you and a clear path in the ocean.
- Never reach out and touch a manta ray, this will remove their protective slime coating and cause harm.
Find more information about swimming with manta rays during the daytime (accompanied by beautiful illustrations) at swimwithmantas.org.
Hawaii Ocean Watch created standards for manta ray tour operators around Kona, for activity providers aiming for a more sustainable manta-human interaction. As Manta Ray Advocates, we want to teach the best way to interact with those gentle giants of the sea during daytime encounters as well as at night.
ALWAYS REMEMBER: keep interactions with manta rays passive (you’re the observer) and let the mantas come to you. It’s so worth it!