Recommended as “ONE OF THE TOP-TEN THINGS TO DO IN YOUR LIFETIME” by The Travel Channel, the manta night snorkel was not something I was going to pass up. And wowza, was it an experience.
The manta rays feed on planktonic marine life that scattered throughout the water column. These large animals need a lot of calories to survive, and since their prey are so small it is much more efficient for them to feed in plankton concentrated areas. During the day you can find the occasional lone manta feeding along the coastline, but nighttime is when the true magic happens. For years, dive boats have been attracting manta rays to certain bays along the Kona coast by creating plankton-rich feeding grounds at night. Plankton are attracted to light, and this entire ‘world-renowned snorkel adventure’ has been built upon that sole fact. By lowering “campfires” (bundles of dive lights) to the bottom of the sea floor with divers, and by having floating campfires with the snorkelers on the surface, the water column becomes bright enough to attract yummy plankton. After a small wait period, the mantas arrive for dinner. With their mouths agape they swoop through the light and feast on their prey, wowing spectators nightly.
The mantas are residential to the area, and if you’re really good you can identify individuals based on their stomach spot patterns. For the past 20 years research has been done in the area to create a library of the local individuals as well as record their age, sex, family, etc. Check out some of the research at www.mantarayshawaii.com.
I’d seen video footage of a friend’s experience with the mantas so I knew what to expect, but still nothing can prepare you for the spooky, eerie feeling of being surrounded by these winged giants in a dark abyss. While watching a video prior to the dive I could anticipate that something amazing would happen in the frame where the videographer has focused on the action, but in real life it is much more intense because things are happening all around – in front, behind, above, below – and all you have is the frame provided by your
foggy mask. Adding to that, imagine being in a pitch black, 3D environment with your hearing rendered useless. You can only see where the light beams are projected, with no idea about anything lurking beyond, and every movement around you is unpredictable. You are partially blind and surrounded by 2,000+lb acrobats that you can’t see until they want you to see them.
What I thought would be a predictable, flamboyant display by these mantas turned out to be exciting and… suspenseful. I was surprised by how surprised I was. Even though I knew what to expect, having those mantas come so close to me and loop away suddenly had me giggling into my snorkel like a peek-a-boo playing toddler. What FUN.
Taking pictures didn’t work, no matter what setting I tried to use, so I stuck to video instead. Here is a little bit from my snorkel with the mantas: