Night diving with Manta Rays
This activity brings light to the nighttime ocean illuminating a world few ever see. As you float on the waters surface as a group, the undersea world yields mantas out of the shadows on the hunt for plankton gathered in the light shining down beneath your floodlight float. Filter feeders, the mantas harmlessly sweep in circles ever so close bringing a close encounter of a lifetime with these gentle ocean creatures.
Highlights: Once in a lifetime opportunity to float in the darkness as manta rays swirl beneath you in the glow of underwater floodlights. Close encounters of the ocean kind!
Options: Many companies offer this trip, but Big Island Divers are leaders in safety, quality, and innovators as part of the green list of providers working for sustainable standards for manta interaction. They have been operating this activity since 1972.
Restrictions: 10 years of age or older, minors must be by parents at all times.
Fees: $99 plus tax for snorkelers,$120 plus tax for scuba divers
Gear rental: included in snorkel trip is snorkel, fins, and 3 mm wet suit. $25 gear fee for scuba, for tanks and weights and gear
As amazing as this nighttime ocean activity sounds, when you slide off the back of the boat into the darkness and illuminated blue water it gets even more real as emerging out of the dark like swimming sea angels the mantas attracted to plankton swirling under the floating lights glide by your mask and fill you with goose bumps.
Where to Start:
Check in is adjusted seasonally and is 5:30 at the shop in the summer, but the boat departs at 6:45 from nearby marina. In the winter the check in time can be as early as 4 pm with a departure around 5:15 pm. After checking in at the central Kona Big Island Divers' Shop, you are given a map for a short 1.6 mile drive north on Highway 19 to the Honokohau Harbor where there is parking near the boat slip and a short walk.
Out on the boat:
Leaving the harbor you enjoy sunset into twilight on the water, followed by a slow approach to the mooring area where the boat ties off and you get a few lessons.
The Big Island Divers manta tour gets you educated before you hit the water.
The excursions have about 18 to 20 participants to 4 staff on board. Once tied off at the mooring site for the night dive a marine naturalist explains the mantas, their behaviors and ways to sensitively interact with the gentle sea creatures.
The quantity of mantas fluctuates between the seasons, lunar cycles and the choice of dive spots. But whether you see one manta or forty, the effect is sublime pushing even the most avid snorkelers and divers into an excitement level akin to being kids at Christmas. Forget trying to take pictures, the mantas get so close this is nearly impossible. Set your camera for video and you will get better results.
The emphasis on quality and safety made what may seem scary in thought, jumping into black water swimming in the dark, turn dreamy calming reality. There is attention to all participants having what they need to before we hit the water. Each boat has their individual color of small waterproof light that is fastened to the snorkel of each swimmer from their group. This makes immediate sense as soon as you start floating about with other groups in the same area in the dark. Just remember your color and stick with your human pod.
Surface snorkelers hold onto soft-top surfboards that have been modified with handles all around from which you can stay connected. In the center of these boards are mounted floodlights that shine downward toward the ocean floor. These columns of light attract the plankton that the mantas feed upon. Making your floodlight a "manta magnet". Your board has a trained staff from the boat guiding you along and helping you out.
Scuba divers stay at the ocean bottom, with their own guides, and look up as they circle around floodlights shining up from below. The whole experience happens in a relatively shallow cove, with depths as shallow as ten feet and as deep as fifty feet. The affect of swimmers on the surface, and scuba at the bottom creates a zone in the middle for the mantas to feel safe swimming about.
Don't worry so much about the other ocean creatures of the night like sharks. The relative number of boats and swimmers around this manta attractive area makes a commotion that scares the predators away.
It is a long evening out on the water. A meal is recommended an hour or so before departure. The convenient local eatery at the boat harbor called the Bite Me Fish Market Bar and Grill has the freshest fish tacos you can imagine, and the price is good. Try the marlin tacos for $2.50! They are just on the opposite side of the marina from Big Island Divers boats.
There are beverages and pretzel barrels on-board the boat.
Come prepared for 3 to 4 hours on the water, and bring a sweatshirt for warmth after your swim.
Safety note: The biggest piece of awareness you can bring to this activity is to watch out for the other swimmers. In the dark and excitement it is easy to have other swimmers bumping into you. Lots of people get in at first, then slowly they return to the boat. With a wet suit on you can stay in longer, wait out the first rush of people into the water and enter as they tire and return to the boat.
Big Island Divers
74-5467 Kaiwi Street
Kailua Kona, Hawaii 96740
Easy to find off of Kiawai Street in Kailua-Kona.
Access to Kiawi Road is from the Southbound lanes of HI Route 19 turn right on Kiawi Street after Makala Blvd. Then look for shop on the left.
If approaching from the south, you will have to turn at Makala Blvd. making a u turn or turn left on Makala Blvd. then left on Luhia Street. Then turn left on Kiawi Street with shop at shopping center on right.