Hawai'i Manta Rays
Swimming with Angels under the Kona Moon
Kailua Kona holds a secret world beneath the surface of its ocean. As one submerges into the deep black water of the night descending to "the campfire". Divers group together shining bright light beams up into the darkness. Attracted to the plankton that collects in the light, mantas show up to feed. Dancing in circles with their wings expanded, mouths wide open, it is truly a magical experience as they float above us like angels in the midnight sky.
Keahou Bay Black Water
In the Hawaiian language, Hahalua is the word for Manta Rays. Two species reside at Keahou Bay in the Kona Coast, the smaller Reef Manta Ray: Mobula Alfredi and The Giant Manta Ray: Mobula Birostris. Known as gentle giants they are part of the shark family having a flat, black diamond shaped body with large wings expanding 10-22 ft. Each one can be recognized by its unique gray spots in the white underbelly. The manta ray identification project has classified 307 individuals living in Kona by id, name and date discovered.
Island of Volcanoes
Madame Pele is the Hawaiian Goddess of fire, volcanoes, lightning, wind and creator of the islands. She is the spirit that keeps it alive. Each year the island grows due to lava flowing out of six active volcanoes. The Manta night dive is on the Kona side at Keahou Bay where King Kamehameha III was born. He was the last ruler of the Hawaiian Kingdom from year 1825-1854. The Mantas arrived later in the 1970's when the Kona Surf Lodge began to shine its lights at the waves at night. Attracted to the Plankton, it became a feeding spot for the mantas. In the 90's the night dives started for people to see the Mantas underwater in their full splendor. Now it's a top ten global dive.
The Lava is magic keeping the island Alive
Classified as vulnerable under the IUCN Red Conservation List, populations are decreasing. In the 2016 meeting of CITES all 9 species of Mobula Rays where placed under Appendix II protection. The Mantas live in tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate waters worldwide. Having an average lifespan of around 50 years, it takes 10-15 years to reach reproductive age. With solitary behavior only socializing near the cleaning stations at the reef, to mate or feed. The main threats come from human population expansion, the trade of their gill plates and unregulated fishing industry practices. Their biological and behavioral tendencies place additional pressure due to slow recovery from existing threats.
Manta Ray Advocates
Martina Wing is a founder of an organization which works to research and protect the Mantas on the Kona Coast along with her husband. As popularity of the Keahou dive grew they worked on guidelines to ensure the safety of the Mantas. Our paths crossed and Martina took me on a magical dive with the Mantas which she knows personally by name.