Up close with a (docile) manta ray in Kona, Hawaii
  • Up close with a (docile) manta ray in Kona, Hawaii
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As a frequent visitor to Hawaii, I’m always looking for a new experience to expand my appreciation for the islands. A friend recommended I try the manta ray night snorkel in Kona, and at first I was hesitant about the idea of going underwater at night. But once I learned more about it, I was eager to get wet.

We set out just before sunset with a group run by local dive tour operator Neptune Charlie’s. The trip is open to both snorkelers and scuba divers, so there's no experience necessary – other than knowing how to swim and being fairly comfortable in the water as a snorkeler.

On the way out to the dive site, we were greeted by a gorgeous sunset and a playful group of spinner dolphins splashing on the surface. In about 20 minutes we were at the site, along with several other dive boats preparing to enter the water. We were briefed, and each of us entered the water with a bright flashlight to increase visibility and attract the vast hordes of plankton that the mantas feed upon.

Within a few minutes, we were joined by a few graceful mantas circling below. Multiple lights coming from the bottom as well as our own lights created a scene that was eerie and visually stunning at the same time.

The manta rays have wingspans up to 15 feet wide, and beholding such a large sea creature in your midst is humbling. They’re totally docile animals, and lacking teeth or stingers, totally safe to be with. As we spent more time stirring up plankton to the surface with our lights, the mantas became even more engaging, at times circling and looping within a few feet of our masks.

The tour guides have names for each of the rays, and over 250 have been identified. Rays with names like “Jackie Robinson” and “Lefty” became our new acquaintances, and the 40 minutes we spent in the water with them flew by.

This is one water experience I will never forget, and one I’d highly recommend.

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