Night Diving with Manta Rays-Background:
While planning our family vacation to Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, my daughter requested that we go night diving with the giant Manta Rays. Being a total foodie who watches the food channel nonstop, time permitting. She saw an episode of Guy Fieri’s show on Hawaii when he brought his family to film Hawaiian episodes of DDD. In these episodes, the family did many different things, including diving with the Manta Rays off the coast of Kailua-Kona (Kona). So, diving with the Mantas had become one of Danielle’s bucket list experiences and, by proxy, mine. To do this, we both had to become certified open-water divers. We completed the course two days before we left. The night dive would be our first non-training dive. Gulp! We hoped we were ready.
We booked the dive trip before we left Florida, letting the family know what we were doing, and asked who wanted to join us to do the surface snorkeling version while we went down below. Danielle’s twin sister Lori, Bob, my grandson, Austin, and our daughter-in-law, Kelly, all decided to join us as snorkelers.
How Manta Ray diving started in Hawaii:
Manta Rays eat plankton for food. They glide through the water, taking in plankton through their gills, digesting millions of these microscopic organisms helping these gentle giants grow to over 16′ wide tip to tip and weigh up to 3,000 lbs. They also have the largest brain of any sea creature and exhibit self-awareness. You get to see this up close when they look you dead in the eyes and skim within an inch of your head or face without touching you to interact directly with the divers.
This tradition started in Hawaii when one very observant native noticed mantas were attracted to the security lights at a waterfront restaurant. However, it wasn’t the lights bringing them every night; it was the plankton that were attracted to the lights. The giant mantas learned that plankton were attracted to the lights, so lights meant a dinner feast. Local dive shops decided to try and attract the mantas by submerging giant spotlights off the coast and see if it would attract the plankton and mantas. It worked, and today, more than a dozen dive boats are providing nightly snorkeling and dive charters to see the manta rays.
Here is a link to learn more about the gentle giant mantas off the Kona coast.
Our night manta dive experience:
We booked our Manta Ray night dive with the Big Island Divers and were thrilled with the experience. The dive master and assistant went out of their way to explain exactly how the dive and the snorkelers would proceed with their activities and gave a great educational talk before getting into the water about the mantas, what to expect, how they are named and identified by their markings, etc. Everyone felt comfortable before getting into the water. Tip: be sure to stop by the shop a day or so before the dive to ensure all forms are filled out and the dive is paid in full. They will check diving certifications.
Wetsuits were provided for everyone if you requested them on the signup form. Then, the snorkelers made their way into the water out to their handholds on the surfboards fitted with spotlights on the bottom to attract the plankton and mantas.
The dive group had a pre-dive briefing with the dive master, who explained how the dive would proceed. Below us was a ring of high-intensity spotlights placed on the bottom by all the dive boat companies. Around the circle of lights were two concentric rings of boulders for the divers to station themselves and watch the manta dance. Finally, we made our way into the water at dusk and descended the bouy line. The dive master helped us get great spots around the lights. It was eerie to be sitting on the bottom of the ocean in 35′ of water with about 40+ other divers, including divers from other dive boats. Watching all our bubbles rise to the surface in the lights made me feel like I was a little diver Dan at the bottom of a saltwater aquarium.
The Giant Manta Ray Party:
It wasn’t long when the first mantas showed up, swimming through the divers and ring of lights feeding on the plankton. Then, more and more arrived; we could identify about twelve different mantas based on the markings on their white bellies. The mantas swam right up to our faces and over our heads, at times lightly caressing our heads or shoulders. They swam and swirled around each other, getting close to but never colliding. It looked like a choreographed ballet. We didn’t realize that they were swimming back and forth between the surface snorkelers and the divers on the bottom, feeding on the plankton. Everyone had a fantastic experience. My daughter and I were ducking several times as the mantas came so close to us. There was also lots of other sea life, including eels, remoras, and a host of beautiful fish.
Our family snorkeling at the surface had an equally fantastic time, and everyone was excited by the experience. They had so much fun that my daughters decided to go again on Sunday night and bring my ten-year-old granddaughter.
On the way back into port, the crew provided warm water to spray off with while they rinsed out our gear and offered hot chocolate and coffee to warm everyone up. Danielle and I were feeling great about our first dive experience. It would be hard to beat, for sure.
Day diving in Hawaii:
Ready for the next dive for sure, Danielle and I decided to take advantage of the fantastic dive opportunities in the area and do a day dive charter to try more of the unique diving opportunities available off the west coast of Hawaii. For this trip, we chose the Kona Dive Company. It was a two-tank morning dive charter in the same general area outside Kona harbor south of the airport. The first dive would be about 60 feet along a coral reef and sea wall dropping to over 2000 feet.
We didn’t go down there.
The sea life was abundant, and it gave us both a chance to practice our skills and get more comfortable diving. Others saw a few small octopuses, but our untrained eyes missed them. The dive master was terrific. Our pre-dive talk included education about the area and many of the species we would see below. He did a great job of looking after us less experienced divers and letting the pros do their own thing as long as they stayed within safe dive parameters.
Our second dive was closer to shore along a shallow reef in about 25-30′ water. Unfortunately, it was also near the channel, so we had to stay near the bottom, where we were treated to many different fish species, including tangs, box fish, razor fish, and dozens more. We returned delighted, knowing we had started a great hobby that would provide unique experiences worldwide.