Aloha Kona, Hawai’i Island, and night diving with Manta rays!
After the busy weekend, I slept in, showered, packed up, and then Jack took me to airport. I had an easy flight over to Hawai’i island (aka Big Island). Intra-island flights are like flying out of Hays, KS; small, fast, no hassle. My favorite flight situation. I met my sister at the Kona airport, we took a shuttle to pick up the rental car from Progressive, and went exploring for food, supplies, and seeing Kona. Target is apparently the place to shop! They have a great camping food selection, and are the only place with fuel for JetBoil stoves. Since Sports Authority closed down, Hawai’i island no longer has a commercial sporting goods store.
Anyway, after all the wandering around, I was left wondering if we missed the main Kona areas. This city seemed really disjointed. There were a lot of big box stores but I didn’t really see houses or places residents would be. It was strange. But glad we were able to grab everything to set out for the week!
That evening we headed to the pier for Kona Honu Diving! They took us out and let us snorkel with the setting sun. Then we geared up for night diving with Manta rays!!! So amazing!!!! We saw 13 in total, but they kept swimming back so it felt like way more. Our incredible hungry visitors at Manta Heaven (81°35′) were: Who, Ray, Eli, Kai Zed, Amanda, Regan, Bertha, Doug, Lee, Linda, Jordan, Ralph, Winona, and Shirley. Apparently they get their names by whomever first identifies them as a new manta not documented previously.
Manta rays have a flattened, diamond-shaped body with cephalic horns for feeding. They are primarily gray and black on top (dorsal side) and mostly white on the bottom (ventral side). The patches of black pigmentation on their bottoms are unique to each Manta ray, and thus are used to identify individuals. Manta rays are pelagic, meaning they live in open waters (here as coastal dwellers, with a 90 mile range, 30 miles up and down the coast and about 3 miles out from the coast) and do not live at the shore nor the ocean bottom, and they are filter feeders, eating large quantities of plankton while they swim through the waters. The Manta rays in Hawai’i can range up to 16 feet across, fin tip to fin tip. What incredible creatures!
As the dive went on, we were one of the final groups remaining. Our company let us stay the full hour. The Manta rays come because the “torch” of lights attract plankton. As other groups’ lights went out, the mantas began swooping closer and closer to our lights. A couple times one came so close it knocked my head and hands even though I was laying on my back with rocks on fins to keep me as low and still as possible. I felt so small next these agile and graceful creatures.
Their diet of zooplankton consists of copepods, fish eggs, mysid shrimp, and crab larva. They have to eat about 5% of their body weight each day, and these weigh an average of 1,500 lbs! You can see the gill slits on the bottom, gill arches and rakers when they open their mouth toward you, and they use the front cephalic fins to channel plankton into their mouths when unfolded. They frequently do back rolls while feeding and that is typically the only time they are willing to let humans be so close to them. Based on that, Manta rays are basically constantly searching for food.
The oldest recorded Manta ray is Lefty, first documented in 1979, causing scientists to predict Manta rays can live between 50 to 100 years. It is mind boggling how little humans know about so many marine creatures.
I would love to come back to Hawai’i and spend several days diving from a live-aboard in the northern islands. That would be amazing!
After we begrudgingly surfaced to head back to land, I stole my last few looks. I took my waterproof camera and hope the footage turns out! On the ride back we showered on boat, drank hot chocolate, ate snacks, and chatted with the friendly crew. It was a phenomenal time! So glad we decided to add this last minute. I can’t believe I was going to pass it up. They offer a “black water” dive too, where you are tied on a line 60 feet down and organisms come up from the deep lightless waters below. I would love to see a squid, with eyes the size of saucers!
We slept that night in the car in the parking lot. One of the dive leaders told us it was ok. We knew we wouldn’t have a campsite tonight. They all closed by 9pm, or earlier. Diving seemed worth one night in the car, and it was! I would do it all again! It was hot and sticky but we made do. No one bothered us and we were one of the last boats to return, so there weren’t many people around anyway. We stayed up by the boats since the beach area seemed to have a small gathering going on that night.
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