Travel Blog #112 – Manta Ray Dive with Neptune Charlies

Mar 8, 2019 | General Information

I was standing on the porch of our vacation rental watching the sunset when I reached into my pocket for my schedule so I could check and see what I had planned for the following day. I was thrilled when I looked down at my handwritten schedule and saw.

“Manta Ray Scuba Dive, Neptune Charlies @ Honokohau Harbor”
Manta Rays eat plankton and can be found all over the state of Hawaii. However, there is one particular place on the Big Island where they are found so frequently, that an entire industry has been created from how consistently you can go diving with them. Each ray is named and cataloged and the majority of the rays that you’ll see when diving here are not strangers to the area.

The reason that the rays live here is entirely natural, but the methods that are used to attract them to divers are not. The dive lights that are used by divers at night attract plankton. The huge mantas are filter feeders and love to feast on these tiny creatures. They follow their food towards the divers because of the lights. Generally, the brighter light increases the amount of plankton that comes towards it. This has led some tour operators to create rafts with multiple bright lights attached to them that they float at the top. They also fill milk crates with super bright lights and lower them to the bottom. This downward and upward light creates a bright spot in the ocean that attracts plankton and rays from all around. In addition to the sheer brightness, the regularity that divers come here has made many rays make a habit of making it a point to show up in the area just after sunset to make the most of the abundance of easily plankton.

We checked in with Neptune Charlies at the Honokohau Harbor just north of Kona town. We parked in the large lot next to the boat ramp (right by the fish market). As soon as everyone arrived the crew dropped the boat into the water and then we made our way onto the boat. As we left the harbor I could see the beginning of what was to become a truly amazing sunset. I talked with the captain for a while on the way to the dive site and I was amazed by how frequently he said that they see rays here. As we pulled up to the bay where we were going to dive I made my way back into the cabin to get all of my gear together.

My girlfriend is not a diver and opted to go snorkeling at the top instead of SCUBA Diving at the bottom. I said good bye to her, then jumped in to drop to the bottom without the rest of the dive group. As we were dropping down I had no Idea what I was in store for me. One of the first things we came across was a turkey fish. This rare creature has stripes as well as large spines that make it quite cool to look at. The dark world at the bottom of the sea was truly alive with a broad mix of species, some of them were on the defense..and some were out in the open looking for their nighttime meal.

Throughout the dive I saw many eels out and about hunting on the top of the reef. These errie creatures clumsily poked about trying to catch on of the sleeping reef fish off guard. I was surprised at how many failed attempts these eel were having trying to catch a fish. After watching the eel hunt for a while we made our way closer to the lights that the crew from the boat had dropped to help bring in the rays. I emptied my BCD at the edge of the sand clearing that the light was in the middle of and slowly dropped down onto my knees on the sandy bottom. Within about 15 seconds of doing so the first ray came into view.

I was literally awestruck at the sight of the ray, it was coming right for me but because I was afraid of spooking it I resisted the urge to dodge. It came right for me and then at the last second it tipped its wings to the side and made a graceful turn back towards the light that came within inches of my face mask. We stayed here for about 20 minutes until I eventually got low on air and had to break away from the group to make a run to the surface. As I got back on the boat I couldn’t believe what I had just experienced. The mantas flew with such precision despite their enormous size, it was absolutely surreal. The Manta Dive with Neptune Charlies was definitely a highlight of my diving career!