State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Division of Boating and Recreation (DOBOR). Thank you for your efforts to make the manta ray night dive and snorkel a safer, and more sustainable activity.

Who we Are

Kona Honu Divers has conducted the manta ray night dive and snorkel for over 20 years. In that time we have seen the manta ray snorkel and dive industry grow as the island of Hawaii’s tourism and interest in the activity grows. While this growth allows many more people to take part in this one-of-a-kind experience, it also creates logistical problems with how people are moved into, around, and out of the manta ray viewing sites.

In 2017 we felt that the additional operators were having an impact on the quality of safety at the southern manta ray site in Keahou. Anchors landing near divers and the number of boats loitering on the surface meant there was an increased potential for serious injury or even death. As operators, it’s our obligation to limit our liability. It’s in our own best interest to do so as a serious incident can put our businesses in jeopardy. Since safety has always been our first core value we decided it would be best going forward to only visit the northern manta site in Makako Bay. When we announced this descisin there were tears of joy in some of the eyes of our crew. Kona Honu Divers has been goin exclusively to Makako bay for 5 years now and it is only one of the measures we have taken to ensure the safety of our guests and the manta rays. Other measures we have taken include: using an underwater diver recall sound system, limiting divers to 6 per guide, requiring that divers have been diving in the last 2 years or get a refresher, including a daytime dive prior to the night dive to allow divers to become comfortable with their skills and gear before the manta ray dive, ensuring staff is trained in lifesaving with a lifeguard or divemaster certification, and requiring our staff to follow the standards put in place by the industry.

Industry Standards

Thanks to groups like Manta Pacific Foundation and Manta Ray Advocates, industry standards were agreed upon and put in place to ensure operators are acting responsibly to ensure a safe and friendly environment at the manta ray sites.

The question at hand is whether we believe operators can act in a responsible and sustainable way. Until now, the manta ray sites have not produced a serious marine incident, due to overcrowding, with hundreds of people in the water nightly. Adherence to the standards put in place will help to mitigate future incidents.

What is being proposed by the State is to go above and beyond these already agreed-upon, but not widely followed, standards enforcing greater control over the manta ray tourism industry.

There is another group that has banded together. It’s made up of snorkel tour operators and is proposing another version of the rules similar to the intent of this letter.

Hawaii State Proposed Rules

  • Establishing 48 manta ray viewing permits
  • Establishing viewing hours and shifts
  • Establishing a maximum passenger count
  • Establishing a passenger to guide ratio of 8:1
  • Vessels are required to moor
  • A no-wake zone will be put in place
  • Fishing is Banned
  • Underwater hull lighting is prohibited
  • Campfire must be used

Industry Standards Already in Place

Manta Ray Tour Operator Conduct

  • No wake in viewing area
  • Avoid navigation through campfire and between other vessels
  • Use channel 14 for manta communications
  • Anchoring Discouraged
  • Underwater hull lighting is prohibited
  • Rafts must be clear of kegs or other protuberances
  • Underwater lines other than for mooring are prohibited
  • Guides must be present in the water with their guests
  • Guides must have Lifeguard or Divemaster credentials
  • Vessels must be equipped with emergency oxygen
  • Divers and snorkelers must carry a marker light
  • Guides must carry 2 marker lights
  • Operators must have an emergency recall procedure
  • Snorkel guides must carry a surface marker buoy during the day

Manta Ray Participant Conduct

  • No touching the mantas
  • Divers must remain on the bottom at the campfire
  • Snorkelers must remain on the surface

The comparison between standards in place and those proposed is important as there are similarities. One important note is that operators have already taken steps toward a more responsible manta viewing industry. The State of Hawaii should take heed of those who have put these standards in place.

These are the current standards and proposed rules that are similar

  • A no-wake zone will be put in place
  • Underwater hull lighting is prohibited
  • A campfire must be used

Additional rules the state should implement

  • No touching of the mantas
  • Divers must remain on the bottom
  • Snorkelers must remain on the surface
  • Establishing a passenger-to-guide ratio of 8:1
  • Guides must have Lifeguard or Divemaster credentials
  • Underwater lines other than for mooring are prohibited
  • Divers and snorkelers must carry a marker light
  • Guides must carry 2 marker lights
  • Operators must have an emergency recall procedure
  • Snorkel guides must carry a surface marker buoy during the day
  • Use channel 14 for manta communications

Proposed Rules that are unnecessary

  • Permitting system
  • Maximum Passenger count
  • Vessels are required to moor
  • Fishing is Banned

Why Implementation of new permits is unnecessary

There is a commercial permitting system in place that allows businesses to operate commercially. The operators must follow the law already put in place. Simply adding more rules will require the existing permit holders to follow them.

The economics & Tax Revenue

By creating 48 permits for manta tours the state will collect an additional $300 per month per permit. This is a total of $172,800 additional annual revenue for the State of Hawaii. While this may seem beneficial it will also come with enforcment costs. How many staff will need to be added to monitor the sites and the smooth conduct of the site users? A single staff member at each site could cost in excess of $160,000 annually when considering 8 hour shifts 7 days a week at modest compensation.

Lost Business = less tax revenue

The industry currently operates with over 60 manta ray tour providers. Some such as Sea Paradise have provided manta tours for 40 years. Using the paragon of the model manta ray snorkeling tours, Sea Paradise as an example, the revenue impact to the state will become obvious.

Sea Paradise is a model operation running safely and successfully for a long-time. Their boat can take 40 passengers per trip and offers 2 trips per night for a total of 80 passengers. At the time of this writing a passenger pays $130 per person. Since their boats fill consistently this is a total of $10,4000 in daily taxable revenue just from the manta tour. If they were to receive a permit (which is not guaranteed) under the current rules, they are only able to accomodate 60 guests for a total of $7,800 in taxable revenue. The current tax rates are 7.712% when considering the county sales tax and the state commercial permit harbor fee of 3%. Annualized this means a single operator running bi-nightly manta ray tours will go from producing approximately $276,000 in tax revenue to $207,000. A loss of $69,000 in revenue to both the state and county. Limiting permits from the over 60 now in operation to 48 will also decrease revenue.

The largest operators are currently taking up to 44 guests a night while the smallest are taking a maximum of 6. If we were to average the passenger count of 12 per permit and assume there are 60 boats and assume a price of $170 per guest which includes divers and snorkelers thats a revenue source of approximately $122,000 per night. With an average of 340 nights a year of good conditions this is an annual revenue of $41,480,000 which currently produces about $3,200,000 of annual tax revenue. Curtaling the number of permits alone will decrease total revenue to around $33,300,000 and tax revenue to $2,560,000. A deficit of $640,000.

How is the state going to decide who receives a permit?

Currently a lottery system is being suggested where operators with greater than 4 years of manta tour operations are eligible. An operator that has been running manta tours for decades, with a mulimillion dollar annual business revenue, has the same chance of receiving a permit as a business that is currently limited to maximum of 6 passengers and started 4 years ago.

Additionally revenue will be lost as operators that were once free to visit any of the sites will now be constrained to one site. If, say there is a significant south swell effecting the southern manta site making it unsafe to use those permits will not be valid for the northern site. This will result in no revenue being produced by those permits issued for that southern site whereas under the current regime the operators can freely choose to go north or south.

Which leads us to the next issue of how the curtailing of supply is going to effect the industry.

Disrupting Supply & Demand

By limiting the number of passengers, permits, and site usage the availability of manta tours will decrease. This will have multifold effects some of which cannot be conceived and others which are more obvious.

Effect #1 Higher Prices

With the same number of people looking to take a manta tour and a smaller pool of avaialble tour seats the demand per spot will increase making it more exclusive. This simply means the favored permit holders will be able to raise their prices making the activity less accessible to the public.

Effect #2 Establishment of new Sites

Existing operators who do not receive a permit will simply move to another site. Initially Keahou was the only manta ray viewing site. Now there are three with the northernmost site at Mauna Kea hotel being the fastest growing site.

looking out at the ocean from the manta grill restaurant at Mauna Kea beach resort on the big island of Hawaii
The manta site at Mauna Kea has snorkelers from shore and 3 boats.

Operators who currently are unable to obtain a permit at either of the 2 proposed sites will inevitably move north or find another site elsewhere. The northern most site is a bit shallower and the operational area more constrained. Of course nothing in these current proposed rules conceives of future manta ray viewing sites.

The Solution


  • Safety
  • Freedom of Movement
  • Ease of implementation


While many of the long-time industry participants will agree safety is important the lack of incidents to-date means it is a perceived need. Safety can be increased with a few simple new rules. Once in place enforcement can be done the same way it is now with reporting of violators coming from the public or other operators.

Freedom of Movement

Allow all current participants to continue to operate freely within the manta zones while also requiring them to abide by the rules. Simply adjusting how operations behave and the rules they must follow will create a safer manta ray viewing zone.

Ease of implementation

By adding new rules but not new permits there would not be an increase in complexity of administration, only an increase in the expectations of the individual operators.