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State proposes restrictions for manta ray viewing on Big Island

Female manta at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary
G.P. Schmahl
Female manta at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

The state is proposing a new set of rules for commercial manta ray viewing at two locations off the coast of Hawaiʻi Island.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation is looking to restrict visitor numbers for manta ray viewing at Makako Bay and Keauhou Bay.

The proposed rules include:

  • Capping the maximum number of visitors to 60 people a day
  • Limit the number of permits to 24 vessels per bay. Currently, an estimated 60 to 70 commercial viewing vessels transport visitors to get up close to the manta rays
  • Vessels would be limited to two-hour shifts
  • Revision and additions of various definitions
  • Defines manta ray viewing hours from 4 p.m. to 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 8-1
  • 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

Neither Makako nor Keauhou have any diving or viewing restrictions. The DLNR said this has led to overcrowding and negative environmental impacts.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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