East Hawaii News

DLNR Plans Rules for Manta Ray Viewing

October 19, 2015, 9:50 AM HST
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The Department of Land and Natural Resources is looking at manta ray viewing sites along Garden Eel Cove at Makako Bay, along the Keauhou Bay coastline fronting the Sheraton Kona, with the plan of developing new administrative rules for the popular manta viewing sites.

Manta ray viewing sites have gained worldwide attention with tours conducted in two areas where manta rays congregate at night to feed on plankton. In recent years, the manta ray viewing sites have also drawn DLNR’s attention.

In preparation for the development of the administrative rules for the sites, DLNR officials commissioned a third-party safety assessment of operations, which identified a number of potential hazards to people. Among the concerns were live boating, multiple boats tying to a single mooring, and insufficient lighting for divers and snorkelers in the water.

The reports also made note that operators strive to carry out safe boating practices and that no incidents have been reported involving the current conditions and practices.

According to the DLNR, “commercial operators are open to making changes that will improve the user experience and safety without sacrificing the quality of the resources they’re utilizing.”

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“We’re working closely with the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR), commercial tour operators, the staff of the Sheraton Keauhou Bay, and other stakeholders to draft administrative rules to mitigate safety and environmental hazards and decrease the potential risk for a boating accident,” said DOBOR administrator Ed Underwood. “DOBOR anticipates releasing a draft rule for public comment by early 2016.”

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In recent years, the DLNR has notedgrowth in snorkeling and diving at the two sites. According to DLNR officials, the activity is in need of regulation in order to preserve the resources and prevent the dangers posed by overcrowding.

As much as three years ago, the United States Coast Guard worked with commercial dive tour operators to draft voluntary safety standards to which the operators currently adhere.

DLNR began facilitating tour operator working groups to develop a consensus on the aspects of manta ray viewing operations in greatest need of attention last year. This includes assessing whether additional moorings could be installed to mitigate anchor damage and limiting the number of operators allowed to conduct manta night dives and snorkeling.

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