How we Aim for Sustainability at Manta Ray Advocates

by | Aug 2, 2022 | Hawaii Travel, Swimming with Manta Rays

“Sustainable” has become a buzz word in many industries all around the world. For us, sustainability is way more than that. We believe living, traveling and working sustainably is the only way to protect (some of) the world we live in today for future generations.

For us, sustainability happens at three different levels: at home (Manta Ray Advocates Headquarters), at work (when taking guests out to meet the mantas), but also taking a stand to make the ecotourism industry in Hawaii more sustainable.

Table of Contents

How and why we added solar panels at Manta Ray Advocates HQ in Hawaii

Making our business environmentally sustainable

Advocating for change in manta ray tourism

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Solar panels at Manta Ray Advocates HQ Hawaii

In my late teens and early 20’s, it became very apparent to me that plastics were being used in abundance everywhere. I knew back then that the environment would suffer from it eventually, which fueled my desire to study environmental engineering at university. It was crystal clear that things made from plastics weren’t sustainable, especially if we keep mass producing it.

After university, I eventually ended up in Hawaii, got married and built an ocean recreation business with my husband. When I looked around Hawaii in the early 2000s, I was shocked to see there were no solar panels on any roofs. Of all the places for solar to be, it should predominantly in sunny Hawaii!

Solar became available to us in 2012, and we didn’t hesitate to make the leap and put a solar photovoltaic system on our roof. In 2013, we added an electric car.

As the solar panels we installed in 2012 made a huge dent in our (previously very expensive) electric bill each month, we even decided to add more panels to our system a couple of years later (in 2017). The system paid itself off within 7 years.

I strongly believe humanity needs to make major leaps forward to make this planet sustainable and I hope that in the near future, the way we use gas and oil in our cars, in our homes, and in offices and factories changes drastically. Investing into renewable energies is a MUST.

Solar panels on roofs in Hawaii - aiming for sustainability
These days, more and more people are adopting solar panels in Hawaii.

Making our Business Environmentally Sustainable

As a measure to ensure sustainability in our business, we took a look at how we were operating.

Like so many other manta ray tours, we used a boat in the past to access the manta dive sites. At a certain point, we realised this was not sustainable for the operators, the tourists or the animals. More about that below!

We did some research, made connections, and ended up establishing a new location. This is not an easy feat as it also means conditioning the manta rays to visit us and meet the guests (almost) every day at a different viewing site!

When we set up at our new location at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, it gave us a multitude of new opportunities.

By entering the water directly from the sandy beach instead of taking a boat, we were able to cancel all gas use. It also allowed us to guide smaller groups on the experience (we did not have the overhead costs of a boat, gas, maintenance and large crew) and now limit each tour to six people.

This turned out to be not only better for the mantas (we would no longer overwhelm them and other marine animals with a crowd of people), but also enabled us to provide guests with a more intimate, personalised and educational experience.

There’s a word for this in Hawaiian: “pono”. Pono means “do it right”. Here from our little corner of the Big Island, I believe we’re doing it right.

Advocating for Change in Manta Ray Tourism

We are fortunate to be able to do it differently, but that’s not the case for most other manta ray tour companies: they are limited to the two main viewing sites along the Kona coast, which are only accessible by boat.

Legislation is pretty loose when it comes to ecotourism in Hawaii, with government expecting the industry to self-regulate. And although there are some (voluntary) “industry standards” in place as well as guidelines for passive interaction with the manta rays, there is no way to enforce this.

In 2015, we started Hawaii Ocean Watch to raise awareness about these issues, and we set up a greenlist of activity providers who make the best efforts to adhere to industry standards.

Years have gone by and an astonishing 50 companies are now offering a manta ray tour.

On most nights, this leads to oversaturation at the main viewing sites: too many humans, boats and mantas trying to be in the same place at the same time.

Security and naturalist briefings are reduced to a minimum, and not everyone who enters the water is fully aware of what to look out for and what to expect.

The situation is stressful for crew and captains, and often leads to a diminshed experience for guests. On top of that, the oversaturation/chaos regularly leads to accidents – coming to an all-time low in April 2022 where an experienced and much-loved manta ray guide even passed away.

If you’d like to know more about how you can have a sustainable and safe manta ray experience in Hawaii, we created a PDF guide to help people choose a tour operator and prepare as best as possible for the experience of swimming with mantas.

Download the “Guide to Swimming with Manta Rays in Hawaii” here!

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