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New Regulations Proposed for Hawaiian Manta Diving

Close up photo of a manta ray.

Encounter a manta ray up close and personal in Hawaii's manta diving.

Shutterstock.com/Sean Steininger

Dive encounters with Hawaii’s feeding manta rays would have a daily limit under new rules proposed by the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).

An estimated 60 to 70 boats a day currently visit to the two most popular feeding sites—Makako Bay (“Garden Eel Cove”) and Kaukalaelae Point (“Keauhou Bay”) Ocean Recreation Management Areas—according to the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR) within Hawaii’s DLNR. According to the department, the current lack of regulations on the volume of boat traffic or number of divers allowed in the water with the mantas has led to overcrowding, safety concerns, user conflicts and environmental impacts.

The proposed rules allow up to 24 commercial boats to bring a total of 60 passengers to each site a day. Manta ray viewing hours would be defined as 4 PM until 4 AM the following morning. Each vessel could stay for up to two hours, and would be required to have one guide for every eight customers.

The DOBOR has held numerous informational meetings and discussions with stakeholders and community members in West Hawai‘i over the last eight years to determine the next best steps. On Oct. 27, the BLNR officially approved of and initiated rulemaking proceedings, triggering public hearings on the proposed rules. The dates of those are yet to be announced.

“We’ve had years of lengthy discussions with commercial manta ray viewing activity operators,” said DOBOR Administrator Ed Underwood. “We also consulted closely on the development of the proposed rules with the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources. We also engaged the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, to ensure any final regulations will be effectively enforced.”

Additional proposed rules include:

  • Creating two designated manta ray viewing zones at Makako Bay and Kaukalaelae Point.
  • Prohibiting fishing in the zones during manta ray viewing hours.
  • Setting monthly permit fees at $300, in addition to commercial use permit fees.
  • Requiring specific vessel safety measures like specific lighting, propeller guards or safety lookouts.
  • Requiring the display of a capital “M” on both sides of vessels.
  • Implementing strict penalties for violations by commercial operators.