State takes action after manta ray found gouged off Hawaii island

HONOLULU (KHON2) - Manta rays have become a popular attraction for divers on Hawaii island.

One of the graceful sea creatures was seriously injured with deep gashes Sunday night, raising concerns about its safety as well as the divers in the area.

Manta ray viewing is big business now. We've learned that the state is putting together a new set of rules to make it safer.

Keller Laros of the Manta Pacific Research Foundation shot video of the wounded manta ray. Part of its back wing had been gouged, and there were several deep cuts throughout its body.

"I noticed immediately that he was acting a little bit strange, and I saw the wound on his abdomen, on the underside of his wing, and it's horrible. I mean, it just looked like he was completely chopped up," said Laros.

Laros says the manta ray is known as Eli, an 8-year-old male who, like many others in Garden Eel Cove in Kona, are playful.

Another diver saw Eli earlier in the afternoon "and he was completely intact. He did a nice barrel roll and I saw his belly, so I knew it was him and everyone was super excited," said Sandy Hammel of Kona Honu Divers.

Hammel and Laros believe that Eli must have been run over by a boat sometime between 5:30 and 7 p.m. They say the cuts look like they were done by propeller blades.

"When you see something like this happen, it's just heartbreaking," said Laros.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources has been working on a new set of rules for safe manta-ray viewing. The state says the attraction has been so popular that it has become unsustainable and unsafe.

On its website, the state says regulation is needed to address the dangers posed by the overcrowding of boats and swimmers. 

Laros says there were 17 boats in the cove that night. No one actually saw what happened, but he believes that some boaters aren't observing the proper safety protocols.

"I think it was just a boat came in fast and furious and ran over this manta ray that was just relaxing there on the surface," said Laros.

DLNR says those new rules were sent to state lawmakers Monday for informal review. They will then be sent to tour operators for public comment, and then there will be a public hearing.

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