Big Island Polls

Big Island Now Poll No. 19 results: More limitations needed for manta ray tours

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When it comes to how Hawai‘i should handle manta ray commercial tours off the west coast of the Big Island, voters in Big Island Now’s most recent poll seem to agree that more limitations and restrictions are needed.

Manta ray night dive from a Kona tour boat in 2021. (File photo by Cammy Clark/Big Island Now)

Of the total 994 votes in the poll — which asked “How do you think the State Department of Land and Natural Resources should handle the growing number of manta ray commercial tours in West Hawaiʻi?” — the top choice with nearly 30%, or 288 votes, was limiting the number of nightly tours.

Adding the results from other options, including limiting the number of commercial ocean recreation permits (107 votes or 10%), separating permits for Keauhou Bay and Honokōhau Harbor (95 votes or 9%), instilling a passenger limit for tours (66 votes or 6%), allowing only canoe tours to visit the rays (45 votes or 4%) and putting a time limit on tours (27 votes or 2%), shows that 628, or 63%, of the total votes favored additional restrictions on the tours.

Richard Prohoroff, commenting on the poll, asked what the manta rays are eating and said using light attraction in shallow bays 365 days a year is foolish: “The effect could be detrimental to the environment. Most reef fishes have a zoo plankton larval stage.”

Another reader, with the screenname MarkS_OceanDem, said he’s been on manta ray dives a few times, including an incredible experience in the 1990s when about a dozen rays were feeding over him and his dive group for 20 minutes. He called the dives “well-organized chaos.”


“At this point, I’m concerned less with the numbers of trips per night, but more with the fact that they’re every night (for year after year after year),” he said. “Certainly seems like generations of these amazing creatures are habituated to night feeding aided by operators’ lights on the sea floor. Wish there was some science to guide us here, but reforms (of numbers of participants, numbers of permits, etc.) seem warranted.”

He added that, hopefully, the Hawaiʻi State Department of Land and Natural Resources will do the science and protect “these (still) wild animals” from what has become a bucket-list dive for many divers.

The manta ray tours also have created jobs and economic value to the Big Island.

But Hawaiʻi Island residents and conservationists have raised concerns for several years about the number of manta ray tours operating out of West Hawai’i harbors.


A recent measure, House Bill 1090, would have limited the number of ocean recreation commercial permits and implement a system of issuing permits based on seniority.

The bill passed the State Legislature but was vetoed by Hawai’i Gov. Josh Green, who said that while a recreation commercial permitting system requires reform, the state needs to take a balanced, concerted approach so fishermen, hundreds of local jobs and several businesses throughout the islands are not adversely impacted by the sudden change in ocean recreation commercial permits.

The Hawai‘i Legislature said July 10 that it will not try to override the veto.

But not everyone thought additional regulations are the way to go.


There were 214 votes, or 21%, for eliminating all tours unless they are environmental or educational — the No. 2 result in the poll — and 152 votes, or 15%, went to keeping the status quo, it’s fine, which was the No. 3 pick.

“Like the dolphins, manta’s are smart enough to leave/not show up if they don’t like to,” commented reader David Iggy. “What’s the harm in a boat ride/float at night?”

Here are the full poll results:

  • Limit the number of nightly tours: 288 (28%).
  • Eliminate all tours unless they are environmental/educational: 214 (21%).
  • Keep the status quo; it’s fine: 152 (15%).
  • Limit the number of commercial ocean recreation permits: 107 (10%).
  • Separate permits for Keauhou Bay and Honokōhau Harbor: 95 (9%).
  • Instill a passenger limit for the tours: 66 (6%).
  • Allow only canoe tours to visit the manta rays: 45 (4%).
  • Put a time limit on the tours: 27 (2%).

Total votes: 994.

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