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State Seeks Input on Manta Ray Viewing Mooring Proposal Off Kona Coast

Juvenile manta ray with diver at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.
G.P. Schmahl
Juvenile manta ray with diver at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

KAILUA-KONA, Hawai‘i — The state has asked the public to comment on a proposal to install mooring buoys to address overcrowding at two popular manta ray viewing sites off the Kona Coast.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources said it plans to install 13 of the buoys at Kaukala‘ela‘e Point off Keauhou, and 12 at Makako Bay off Keāhole Point.

The plan would remove and reconfigure existing moorings at the sites, which weren't permitted and haven't been managed or maintained by the state, West Hawai‘i Today reported.

The moorings would protect natural resources by eliminating the use of chains and anchors that can damage coral reefs, the department said. More manta ray viewing tour boats could also use the sites if the buoys were installed.

A 2015 study by Marine Science Consulting LLC found that the manta tours host up to 300 divers and snorkelers nightly with an estimated 60 operators competing for space and access at the two sites.

The effort to address issues related to manta ray viewing off the Kona Coast began in 2014 when the state House of Representatives passed a resolution urging the department to manage the dive sites to address overcrowding, safety and liability issues.

A draft environmental assessment, which anticipates a finding of no significant impact for the project, was published last week. Comments are due by July 23.

The department will pay for the project, which will be implemented in two phases because the coronavirus pandemic has squeezed state finances.

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