KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii — Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources has drafted rules regarding proposed changes to manta ray viewing sites.

The department’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation crafted the rules with the Big Island specifically in mind, as manta ray excursions represent a multi-million dollar industry in West Hawaii that has gone essentially unregulated, West Hawaii Today reported Tuesday.

The draft rules would, among other stipulations, require documentation of manta ray viewing site usage and proof that applicants have established histories of operating tours.

Regulations would also mandate one permit per vessel and set in place punitive actions for repeat rules violators that may result in suspension or revocation of manta ray tour permits.

Department spokeswoman Deborah Ward said due to the lack of rules, no permits specifically for manta ray tours have ever been issued. Instead, anyone who currently holds a general commercial use permit is eligible to operate a tour.

The project to create rules started in 2014 and they are expected to go into effect in a year or two, she said.

The division distributed the draft rules to Big Island legislators and commercial manta ray tour operators in advance of the document’s scheduled release on March 26, when the proposed regulations will be available for general review. Public hearing dates have yet to be announced.

Keller Laros, founder of the Manta Pacific Research Foundation and owner of Laros Diving Inc., which owns a 50 percent share of Jack’s Diving Locker, said improving safety for tourists and manta rays while maintaining a sustainable industry begins with the permitting process.

“There are no barriers to the industry,” Laros said. “There’s a company in town that hired a homeless guy to be a snorkel guide. Maybe he’s trained, maybe he’s not.”


Information from: West Hawaii Today, http://www.westhawaiitoday.com