Aloha and best wishes to all Manta Lovers and Ocean Enthusiasts for 2014.
It has been sometime since my last blog entry. 2013 was pretty crazy as it started out with my dolphin rescue video going "viral". As of today, with reloads, it has more than 6 million hits on YouTube. The BBC and National Geographic will feature the story sometime in 2014. We are so grateful and pleased that this beautiful message is continuing to spread worldwide. :)
Medical issues have held me back (a little) in 2013, so I anticipate more energy as we move into 2014. 2013 further clarified that the Manta Rays are my true love and passion, and our team is highly motivated to keep you informed about our Gentle Giants in 2014 and beyond.
The Manta Rays have certainly done their part! Numbers and sightings for 2013 were stellar and I will be reporting in much more detail (sometime later this year) by posting our Annual Statistics Report. Please keep checking back for it.
Today’s blog is mainly about the future of the Manta Ray Experience and our concerns that the two sites are over-saturated with people.
State representatives Cindy Evans and Nicole Lowen (Committee for Ocean, Marine Resources, & Hawaiian Affairs) introduced Bill 1684: (f) The department of land and natural resources shall adopt rules, pursuant to chapter 91, that establish a permit system limiting the number and capacity of boats and people present at manta ray aggregation sites."
As of today it has passed its 2nd reading.
West Hawaii Today featured this subject in its Sunday issue of 02/02/2014 : http://westhawaiitoday.com/news/local-news/popular-manta-ray-dives-may-see-strict-regulations
As pioneers of this incredible ocean encounter we have seen the industry grow and grow and grow. The number of boats at the two sites and people in the water has greatly increased over the last few years. In our opinion, the sites are over-capacity almost every night and the safety of animals, environment/coral reef and humans is being adversely impacted. If the growth goes unchecked, we don't see a bright future for the activity. Thus, we support Bill 1684!!
A little more history: The Manta Ray Experience started commercially in 1991 with one boat once per week! Over the years, more and more boat operators started to “join” the Experience. About 2-3 years ago, we started to feel increasingly uneasy as to the number of people in the water. We have always marveled at the cooperation and teamwork at the dive sites, as well as how many people are guided during the activity. Every activity has a maximum capacity and only so many people can fit into a limited space. We believe that 200 people is the maximum capacity this activity (per location) can tolerate without adverse effects on the Manta Rays and the eco-system in general.
The Coast Guard and the State’s DLNR took note of the rapid growth and questionable conduct within the industry in November 2012. All boat operators were “called” to a meeting to address these issues. At their behest, operator standards were created and have been in place since April 2013. Since this is only a “gentlemen’s agreement”, without enforcement, quite a few boat owners have simply ignored these standards.
As a result, the Mantas have been injured and the activity has fragmented with some people seeing the Mantas, and some not, at the same location.
Everyone used to gather at the main viewing area we call “the campfire”, but certain operators decided to attract the Mantas to their specific boat instead, for their own reasons, and disorganization now reigns supreme.
We were involved in the creation of these standards, and during all of the meetings it was apparent that the group of boat owners could not agree on the number of participants. It was difficult enough to agree on the standards. To us, the meetings seemed to be more about personal grievances than about the safety of the activity or the well-being of the Manta Rays. So, as stated above, the standards were drafted, but the people that seemed to be causing all the problems, just ignored them. Essentially nothing changed. In fact, it is worse now.
As a result, lawmakers picked up on the turmoil within the industry. They must have also realized that the future of this Experience is at stake. So far, the proposed bill seems to have received a favorable reception. If it does pass, then the issue becomes enforcement. It remains to be seen if this will solve this disturbing, on-going, increasingly complex problem.
Today’s Manta Experience is not responsible eco-tourism, and in our opinion, NOT SAFE AND NOT SUSTAINABLE.
Without regulations, we see no future for the Manta Ray Experience. There are those that advocate self-regulation, but history has shown us this is not possible.
We will keep you updated…
We wish everyone the best for 2014, especially for the Manta Rays and all Ocean creatures.
Manta Ray Advocate!!