Read Part One of my Big Island diving experience, here.
When I first learned about night diving with Manta Rays the experience was instantly added to my bucket list. I don’t think I even had a second thought, it was just one of those things that was supposed to be on my list all along. Of course many visitors come to the Big Island to see the breathtaking active volcano, and while that was high on my bucket list as well, the manta dive was the main attraction during our trip.
After our first dive, we hung out on the surface while we waited for the sun to set. Kona Diving Company provided quite the spread, including goldfish, trailmix, turkey and roast beef wraps, sodas, juice, and even homemade brownies to help us replenish before our second dive.
As the sun inched closer to the horizon more dive boats appeared, and that’s when Jordan and David briefed us on what would happen next. We were diving in a location known throughout the world as the most reliable site to see a manta ray. Using a Manta puppet to assist in their briefing, Jordan and David informed us that each manta is identified by the markings on their bellies and they do not have stingers like sting rays or eagle rays. They also put our worried minds to rest that contrary to popular belief, the mantas cannot swallow us. While their mouths are gigantic, their esophagus’ are not, so if they tried to “eat” us they would just choke and spit us out. (Phew!!! That’s a relief). 😉 Their joke-filled briefing went over the facts: manta rays eat plankton, and plankton are attracted to the light. So our goal was to flood the area with light to draw in the plankton thus providing a delicious buffet for our Manta friends.
Seems simple, right? Not so. These are wild animals that
march swim to their own drum. Sometimes there are dozens of mantas, sometimes just a handful, and sometimes, sadly, none. The mantas did not care that I had traveled thousands of miles to meet them, and they didn’t care that my entire Hawaiian vacation was planned around this specific dive. No pressure, mantas!
Besides the super awesome and friendly staff, the small number of divers on our boat, and the delicious food, my favorite thing about Kona Diving Company is that they enter the water last out of all the dive boats. As I saw the other divers begin their descents, my excitement grew, however I maintained my composure as I knew that they would spend a majority of their time (and precious air) attracting the plankton, and then it would be our turn to descend and dive with the mantas.
When the time came to begin our descent, the word had spread that there were no manta rays around. I kept my hopes high and my fingers crossed that one of our friends would arrive shortly.
After our descent, we made our way over to the campfire–the gathering place for the divers–and out of the corner of my eye I saw a graceful shadow emerge in the distance. I realized that our Manta Ray friend was showing up right on time–fashionably late for the earlier divers, but just on time for our crew. We found a sandy area and kneeled down keeping our flashlights pointed towards the surface in order to keep attracting plankton.
After our dive we found out that this specific Manta was named Timmy Ray. Timmy was the only manta who showed up that night, but he was the star of the show and put on quite the performance.
While on our knees, there were numerous times that we had to duck in order to avoid Timmy rubbing his belly against our heads. He was literally THAT close. Timmy would swoop within centimeters of the diver’s heads and then swim in big circles (almost like a somersault or backflip) within the water and come within inches of the snorkelers at the surface. This is probably one of the only experiences where snorkelers and divers can equally enjoy the activity.
As I sat there at the bottom of the ocean I was mesmerized by this wild animal. Here I was witnessing this incredible manta ray, about seven feet long wing-tip to wing-tip, floating by and doing somersaults just above my head. The way he moved in the ocean was incredibly graceful and had I not had my regulator in, my mouth would have probably been hanging open in awe.
As time ticked on, other divers began their ascent because they were low on air, and the more divers that left the area the darker it got. Before we knew it we were the last five divers in the water and Timmy gave us his entire attention. He even followed us back to the boat once it was our time to leave.
As we enjoyed the boat ride back to the harbor I was beaming. I couldn’t help but feel incredibly lucky. Not only had I just experienced one of the most magical nights of my entire life, but I just crossed off another bucket list item. Kona Diving Company, we will definitely be back…
I have uploaded a video of my Manta Dive. Take the two minutes to watch it, I hope you’ll be as mesmerized as I was. Aloha!
Have you ever witnessed a wild animal up close?