Updated: November 30, 2022
A first of its kind set of rules are being proposed for manta ray viewing in Hawaiʻi.
Currently there are no laws or rules that regulate manta ray diving or viewing activities in the Hawaiian Islands. Officials with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources say this has led to overcrowding and associated safety concerns and user conflicts, and environmental impacts.
The department’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation estimates between 60-70 viewing vessels get guests up close and personal with feeding manta rays in the Makako Bay (also known as “Garden Eel Cove”) and Kaukalaelae Point (also known as “Keauhou Bay”) Ocean Recreation Management Areas.
The proposed rules would limit commercial viewing permits to 24, in each of the two designated zones. Boats could carry no more than 60 passengers within a single 24-hour period and vessels would be subject to 2-hour-long shifts in each zone, according to the proposed rules.
Additional proposed rules:
- Revision and additions of various definitions
- Defines manta ray viewing hours from 4 p.m.- 4 a.m. the next day
- Specific permits at a fixed monthly fee of $300, in addition to commercial use permit fees
- Implement a guide-to-customer ratio of 8-to-1
- Safety requirements including specific vessel lighting, propeller guards or safety lookout
- Display of capital “M” on both sides of vessels
- Prohibiting fishing in the zones during manta ray viewing hours
- Implement strict penalties for violations by commercial operators
Officials with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources say the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation has grappled with amendments to Hawai‘i Administrative Rules regarding commercial manta ray viewing operations at the two locations in the West Hawai‘i.
The Board of Land and Natural Resources, today approved initiating rulemaking proceedings, including public hearings on a proposed set of rules.
“We’ve had years of lengthy discussions with commercial manta ray viewing activity operators,” said DLNR Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation Administrator Ed Underwood told the BLNR. “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.”
DOBOR is also proposing the official creation of two designated manta ray viewing zones, at the locations mentioned above.
Department officials say “DOBOR held numerous informational meetings in West Hawai‘i over the past eight years, along with lengthy discussions with stakeholders and community members.”
The BLNR approval of rulemaking proceedings triggers public hearings, with dates yet to be announced.