Kona's Manta Ray Night Dive

How It Began

Over 30 years ago, an oceanfront hotel on the Kona coast of the Big Island of Hawaii shined spotlights on the ocean for their guests to enjoy.

They never expected what happened next.

The lights attracted plankton, which happens to be the favorite food of manta rays, and the plankton congregation attracted mantas that started showing up nightly to feast on the free buffet.

Not surprisingly, the mantas attracted divers.

The hotel has long been shut down- it is now the home of the Sheraton Kona Resort- but the Kona dive shops decided to move the dive and set up a ‘campfire’ of lights just south of the Kona airport at a dive site called Garden Eel Cove.

Many years later, this dive continues with the help of a large box of LED flashlights; plankton, mantas, and divers still congregate nightly for one of the most amazing night dives in the world.

Legendary Night Dive

Often considered as one of the top diving experiences, this dive probably gives divers the best chance to see and get close to these beautiful, huge mantas. Dive operators estimate there is at least an 80% chance of seeing the mantas each night; sometimes just one or two, and some nights 10-20 mantas.

Forty-two mantas is the record for one night.

Manta Ray Night Dive

The dive is an easy dive as far as experience goes.

Most operations have a day time or twilight dive at the same site before the night dive, giving you a chance to get familiar with the site. Mantas are often seen on the day dives either being cleaned or just checking out divers! The entire night dive is spent at the ‘manta circle’ or ‘campfire.’

Divers get in a circle and kneel or sit throughout the dive in about 35 feet of water. With the help of boxes of lights and each diver holding a flashlight above their heads, the plankton will increase and the mantas come to the circle to feed.


There are a few special rules for this dive to keep the mantas safe.

Touching the mantas isn’t allowed, as they have a delicate mucous coating that protects them from bacteria and parasites and we could rub that off.

Snorkels are prohibited for the same reason, as the mantas can come in very close and sometimes bump the top of your head, trying to get every last bit of the plankton cloud your light as brought in. They might touch you, but please don’t attempt to touch them.

Divers are also prohibited from swimming in the water column. The mantas do a graceful and beautiful ballet-like dance while they are feeding, and they do what looks like belly roll swoops or circles.

They can bump into divers swimming, which could injure them or scare them away.

Diver with Manta

Some Interesting Facts

The mantas' tails have no sting, although they are related to Stingrays (also Eagle rays), and they can weigh up to 3,000lb with wing spans larger than 20ft. Most of the Kona mantas are 8-12ft across.

Their strange mouth parts are called cephalic fins, which are used to funnel water and plankton into their mouths. The cephalic fins curl up when they’re not feeding and look similar to horns.

My favorite manta fact is that when baby mantas are born, their wings are wrapped up around them just like a little manta burrito.

The newborns' wing spans are usually around three feet across.

Like most shark species, mantas are ovoviviparous, which means they produce live young hatched from an egg, so the baby is hatched in the female’s oviduct and then they remain inside the mother until fully developed.

The dive site has also provided a unique opportunity for researchers. This was one of the first places divers and scientists could reliably see and study mantas.

Each manta that comes to the night dive has been identified and named by its unique black and white markings on this underside. And if you are lucky enough to photograph an unknown manta, you get the honor of naming it!

Open Wide!

Dive shop staff have been keeping tabs on which mantas show up each night, creating probably the largest and longest collection of manta sighting data in the world.

The first identified manta was Lefty (named because of her broken left cephalic fin) in 1979 and she still shows up to the manta circle often. Now there are more than 200 named and identified mantas in Kona and the trend for identifying has caught on worldwide.

Manta rays recently became protected in Hawaii, largely due to the research and work of the Manta Pacific Research Foundation, but they are not protected worldwide.

One of the major threats manta rays face is the market for dried gill plates in Asia which is used in traditional medicines. This demand for tradition medicines has led to the slaughter of tens of thousands of mantas each year.

So how can you join in on this amazing dive?

Kona’s manta ray night dive happens every night at Garden Eel Cove and there are several dive operators who take divers to this site and the Kona Aggressor liveaboard visits it weekly as part of their week long charters.

The old hotel site in front of the Sheraton Hotel is also occasionally visited, although usually has less mantas than Garden Eel Cove. It is also possible for non-divers to snorkel the site and most dive shops offer both ways of seeing the mantas.

Open Wide!

The mantas tend to stick around as long as the divers, and their lights, do. Usually it’s the divers saying goodbye to the mantas first due to their tanks emptying, but the mantas will stick around and feast all night if given the chance. The dive is truly an amazing experience bringing these beautiful, huge, creatures so close to divers.

Further Reading

Directory of Dive Shops in Hawaii

Directory of Dive Sites in Hawaii

Directory of Liveaboards in the United States

Overview of Diving in Hawaii

3 Legendary Night Dives in the Maldives

Published Jan. 17,


Dive Sites

Garden Eel Cove

Marine Life

Manta Ray




manta ray night




Load more comments
  • tn

    Indah Susanti 12/21/2014 9:32:53 AM Stunning experience! Must be amazing feeling to see these majestic species at night time. Thanks for the post!

  • tn

    Shirley 2/4/2020 7:00:33 PM I have never been involved in night diving, but after this article I will probably begin to prepare for them. Manta deserves it!I never dived at night, but after this article, I will probably begin to prepare for this. Manta deserves it!

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