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Night of the Mantas: Diving the Big Island of Hawaii

(DiverWire) – Oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Malery once said “the wonders of the sea are as marvelous as the glories of the heavens”.  This can be most relevant during a night Manta Ray Dive off the beautiful shores of the Big Island of Hawaii.  Considering that it is one of the top ten night dives in the world, it should be a must on any diver’s bucket list.

As many scuba divers know, night dives are thrilling, mysterious, simply awe inspiring.  Add the encounter with the majestic Manta Ray, you have now experienced one of the most extraordinary opportunities of your life.

Finding the right dive operator is fundamental to start the adventure.  Kona Diving Company of Kailua-Kona is an operator that has all the amenities to accommodate both snorkelers and divers. Family owned, it is by far one of the best shops to chose from.  From beginning divers to the most experienced, the dives are designed for all to enjoy. It was a pleasure to encounter the Mantas with this impressive operation.

The Night Manta Dive has a bit of mystery to it.  Although most divers have had memorable experiences diving at night, there is something special about this dive.  As the depth is usually around 35’, all levels of divers can enjoy it, along with the snorkelers who can enjoy the activity from the surface. There are two areas where the Manta Rays feed.  The north area is known as Garden Eel Cove, which is located by the airport, and the other area is south called Keauhou Point, just off of the the Sheraton Hotel.  This was the original spot that the Mantas were discovered, as the hotel had large lights shining into the water, and was drawing in the plankton.  The plankton determines where the Mantas show and thus dives go, and this night, it was Keauhou Point.

Once arriving to this area, a thorough briefing was conducted first about the Manta Rays themselves and then about the dive.  The briefing was given by Instructor Katie Gaab, who was both entertaining and informative.  Katie is a graduate of the University of Hawaii with a degree in Marine Sciences, so her information was very knowledgeable.  The group learned about Manta Ray basic anatomy, behavior, the type of Mantas, what to expect, along with the dos and don’t about interacting with the animals.  Also, as these Mantas have lived in this area for at least 30 years, they can be individually identified by markings and physical features.  One of the differences about this type of dive is that is necessary to be over-weighted, as the entire dive will be sitting on the bottom.  Also, be certain to check the area for animals or sharp corals. The briefing lasted about a 1/2 hour, and as the sky began to darken and the other boats began to converge upon the site, it had a very festive feel and the excitement was building.

It was time to gear up and each diver was given a very bright light along with instructions of how to utilize it to draw in the plankton for the Mantas.  It was explained, “to gather a little snowstorm” pointing the light straight up above the head, coxing the Manta to swim over . Also by putting lights together with lure even more plankton for the Manta to feast on.  Looking around the boat, there were other dive boats and snorkel catamarans, all with people in hopes of meeting this animal. As each group entered the water, the illumination below became brighter and brighter.  Once the group descended, a place was found to settle in and wait.  It didn’t take long before the first Manta came into view from out of the darkness.  These animals have wingspans from 5’ to up to 20’, and as the first one passes overhead, it will take one’s breath away.  The Manta is so majestic and large, but so graceful it was as if it was a ballet.   Before long, there were three that had come for dinner, one being the famous Lefty.  Lefty has earned that name because she has paralyzed left cephalic fin, which is what the animal uses to “scoop” in the plankton.  The Mantas continued their beautiful show, flying, gliding, rolling, twisting, all to imagined music. Soon, Martina Wing of Ocean Wings Hawaii came over to the group with her large lights and video camera, which drew the Mantas closer to the area.  Martina does the dive every night and participants can purchase a professional DVD memento of their experience that evening. www.mantarayshawaii.comAll too soon, the Mantas had their fill of the plankton and heading off back into the darkness.  Swimming back to the boat, one must ponder the interaction with such an extraordinary gentle giant, as they had been inches from these animals of grace.

Getting back onto the boat, back into light and leaving the dark vastness below, there was a different tone, not so much of excitement, but that of awe.  For there was a group that had just witnessed one of the world’s marvelous gifts together, and the conversation was simply euphoric.  That, and Kerry’s homemade brownies!

Thinking back on the dive, it was like being in the heavens, the darkness, the weightlessness, the light bouncing off the plankton looking like stars, and the glory of the Manta Ray.

To learn more about Manta Rays in the Kona area, go to the Manta Pacific Research Foundation’s website at www.mantapacific.org

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