There’s something about being 60 feet under water and breathing air from a tank on your back that is calming, it’s something you just have to try to truly experience it. My diving career began in 2017 on a trip to Australia when I became a PADI certified diver and got to dive on the Great Barrier Reef! (*Link to both those blog posts at the bottom!!). Hawaii, however, is also famous for amazing diving, most significantly for giant Manta Ray night diving! Spoiler Alert: it’s not a happy ending, but I’ll get to that later.
Being that Hawaii is made up of islands, you might think it is easy to find these massive animals in Hawaiian waters, but in actuality, it is very rare. Sightings are not guaranteed at any dive site since Manta Rays are wild animals and obviously don’t answer to humans. There are some sites with a higher chance of spotting the mantas based on a number of factors. For my night diving experience, I was on the west side of the Big Island near Kona at a dive site called Manta Heaven. More on the dive site later, let’s start at the beginning, it was time to get to the marina and hop on the boat!
On the boat, we were each given a small slip within the boat that housed our gear, which included 2 full tanks of air, 1 BCD (Buoyancy Control Device), weights, and a wetsuit. I also have my own mask, snorkel, and fins that I always try to bring on tropical vacations since snorkeling can be just as fun. We were also given a briefing on the Mantas and why we were headed to this dive spot specifically. We found out that mantas frequent this area because there is a “cleaning” station nearby. This means that cleaner fish clean other fish and mantas of any parasites that may be attached to them; the cleaner fish even swim in the gills or the mouths of others for a deep clean. For the night manta ray dive, they put giant underwater lights on the bottom of the ocean to attract phytoplankton which the mantas feed on. Millions upon millions of phytoplankton swarmed to the lights at night thus the mantas follow the phytoplankton allowing frequent sightings of mantas in this location.
I mentioned above that we were given two tanks, meaning we were doing 2 separate dives. The first was in the afternoon with the sun still up to explore the dive site and marine life, and the second at night to see the manta rays. After gearing up and jumping into the water we dove down to roughly 60 feet, sometimes a bit lower and sometimes a bit higher just depending on what part of the reef we were at, and there was life everywhere! We saw a multitude of different animals, including garden eels that are slim and look like stalks of seaweed on the ocean floor and will disappear into the ground, free swimming moray eels, a Moorish idol (Aka Gill from Finding Nemo), barracuda, trumpet fish and even an octopus! I didn’t get video/photos of everything but here are some of the better ones I captured on the day dive!
This is where I also have to say I’m sorry. I always find myself lost in the moment when I’m diving and never take good photos/videos of any of the amazing sea life, but here are a few screen grabs from the videos I got, next time I’ll do better I promise!
I also captured this photo of myself while diving and it has quickly become my favorite photo of myself doing anything water related.
With the first dive over, my post dive snack eaten, and the sun setting, it was time to gear up for the night dive. It was finally game time.
Once in the water, we dropped down to the ocean floor about 40 feet below the surface and sat around the lights, which were nicknamed “the campfire.” About 45 divers were also down there with me, just waiting for a manta to show up, everyone had hand lights and the ocean floor was so lit up it was like daytime in our own spot of dark ocean. Hundreds of fish were swimming in the lights eating the phytoplankton in the waters, and one trumpet fish came swimming right at me. Trumpetfish are long and narrow, kind of like a small spear and I was afraid (please don’t tell anyone) that this fish kept swimming right at me. We were told to stay as still as possible as to not scare the mantas so I wasn’t going to ruin it for anyone but this fish kept getting closer and closer! It didn’t seem like it was going to stop so I tilted my head to the most uncomfortable angle while trying to not to move my body all while trying not to be impaled by this fish. Thankfully I survived the encounter and kept my eyes open for the mantas.
Unfortunately, this is the point where I must inform you of the bad news. No manta rays showed up during our night dive. While I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to see the infamously dancing mantas, they are wild animals after-all and there is never a guarantee to seeing them. This just means I have to go back to Hawaii and try again. Sounds like a good excuse to me! I’ll let you know how I fair next time, whenever I do go back!
See you on the next adventure, reader!