By Founder and President Kurt Lieber
To honor World Manta Day – which was September 17th this year – ODA partnered with Manta Pacific Foundation’s Keller Laros, to do an underwater cleanup of a dive site frequented by manta rays just steps away from downtown Kona, on the Big Island of Hawai’i. This also happened to coincide on the same weekend with the International Coastal Cleanup Day, which was September 18th.
3 ODA activities in 2 days!
ODA was operating on all cylinders this weekend. Long-time volunteer Karla Reinhardt gathered 14 people together to remove plastic and trash from the Fullerton water channel in Orange County, California. Captain Dave Merrill took a boat load of people to remove abandoned lobster traps off the coast of Oxnard, California. And our chapter in Hawaii got together to do a boat dive to remove marine debris. Lots of activity in one weekend!
On the big Island of Hawai'i, ODA chartered a dive boat operated by our debris cleanup partner Jack’s Diving Locker (JDL), and headed out from Honokohau Harbor on September 18th, a Saturday. Due to covid restrictions on the number of people allowed to congregate in a small space, we limited the number of people to 16.
It was another one of those idyllic Hawaiian days, with temperatures in the low 80’s, hardly any swells and no wind to speak of. As we headed south out of the harbor, the waters were just as bright as the blue skies. Our objective was to remove abandoned fishing lines left behind by fishermen who are seen daily along the rocky coastline.
Keauhou Bay and the Mantas
The site is called Keauhou Bay. Mantas are drawn to the area every night because the bright lights of a hotel that sits 30 feet from the water, draws in some of the critters that mantas can’t resist: plankton. At night there can be as many as 25 mantas feeding here for hours. Hundreds of snorkelers and scuba divers get to view the ritual each night.
Because of all the human activity, we thought this would be a good candidate for an ODA cleanup. With that in mind, two days before the event I went for a recreational dive with Jack’s Diving Locker (JDL). Keller Laros was the dive guide for the day, and he directed the boat captain to take us to Keauhou Bay to scout the site for debris that we would then remove the day of our ODA cleanup event.
As he gave the divers a presentation on what to expect on the dive, he mentioned that he had seen manta rays here during the day because some reef fish had established a manta “cleaning station” here recently.
What’s a cleaning station? Well, think of it like this: the fish open up a free car-wash-like operation – as the mantas swim by, the fish clean the manta of parasites, and they’re able to do it without biting the mantas! This happens with other bigger ocean animals, as well. The fish do them a great service by picking off the parasites. A variety of types of fish do this, but in this case, it is the wrasse fish. Keller told us that if the fish cleaning station was “happening” when we arrived, he planned to just hang out and watch them for a while.
There were three dive guides, and they broke us up into small groups with each guide taking four or five people on an underwater tour of the area. Each group headed in different directions. As my group was meandering around, we saw a large shape about 100 feet away, and we naturally headed in that direction.
When we got there, we could see two mantas, and they were kind of hanging out in the same spot, moving slowly in circles. This was the cleaning station Keller told us about! You can see a couple of the fish hovering off the side of the manta, doing their cleaning service!
By this time, two groups had come together so everyone spread out to give the mantas space; we made sure we were far enough away to not spook them. The two mantas were soon joined by a third one. I couldn’t believe our luck and was just hoping that all the divers would behave themselves, not make any sudden moves that would spook the animals and drive them away.
As we settled in for the show, out of the corner of my eye about 25 feet away I saw a shark moving along the reef. It was a sandbar shark, about seven feet long. Gorgeous! He didn’t hang around long, but we did.
Okay - just wanted make sure you're paying attention! That's NOT the sand shark, but a shark puppet that Keller used to take some fun shots. You can see some more in the photo gallery!
For the next 30 or so minutes, we all were mesmerized by these beautiful mantas gliding around, over and under us. It was a diver’s dream come true.
I don’t think I moved more than 30 feet for that entire time. And the mantas did the same. They kept circling the area where the fish would gently glide next to them and start picking off parasites that had attached themselves to their bodies.
The mantas were so calm with us in their presence that several times I had to duck or move aside so they wouldn’t run into me. A few times their wing tip came within inches of my face. And making eye contact with these amazing critters makes you humble. They belong here. We humans are just alien invaders in their realm.
The mantas eventually sailed off into the deep and we headed back to the boat. Back onboard nobody was talking about anything besides this magical encounter.
Pawai Bay and the Beautiful Fish
For our second dive we went to a site called Pawai Bay. I’ve been there before and the site is just alive with fish, fish, and more fish. It is a photographer’s paradise. Keller took some great shots and he is kind enough to let ODA use them. Great stuff Keller, and thanks!
Be sure to click the image to enlarge them so you can see the details. :-)
A short list of some of the fish I was able to identify:
- White mouth eel
- Snowflake eel
- Raccoon butterflyfish
- Pyramid butterflyfish
- Ornate butterflyfish
- Forceps butterflyfish
- Blue ulua
- Moorish idols
- Elephant nose wrasse
- Yellow tail wrasse
- Pinktail triggerfish
- Black durgeon
- Triggerfish, 2 different kinds
- Parrotfish, 3 different kinds
- Yellow tangs
Our purpose in sharing these beautiful images -- and do be sure to look at the ENTIRE photo gallery below -- is to show you the beauty of the ocean wildlife, so that you'll grow in your appreciation of the amazing, diverse animals and work with us to preserve them. These defenseless beings deserve our protection, don't you agree?!
World Manta Day Debris Removal Outing
Keller and I had been planning this cleanup at Keauhou Bay for months, along with some of the staff at JDL. With the day finally upon us we headed out of Honokohau Harbor with 10 volunteer divers and several divers from Jack’s as well.
The volunteers on this project were: Nichole Brito, Morgan Eason, Mark England, Jeff Leicher, Teri Leicher, Cameron McDonald, Eli Michael, Meghan Murray, James Sturz, Kevin Tadlock, Arthur Tarsa, and Marjorie Zensen.
Before all the divers hit the water, everyone split up into teams of two or three, and agreed on which areas of the bay they would look for debris. Most headed for the rocks near the hotel, but one team headed to the far side of the bay since that they had underwater scooters to give them a greater range of distance from the boat.
Another team went into the deeper parts of the bay, and soon found a tire. This was Meghan and her dive partner. They yelled to us on the boat that they needed a lift bag to get it to the surface. Alli Craig (staff member of JDL) grabbed a surf board, put the lift bag on it, and paddled over to Meghan.
Meghan then headed down to attach it to the tire. A couple minutes later the lift bag was at the surface, and Alli began the long kick over to us on the boat. Something like 75 yards. No easy feat dragging a large truck tire that distance!
Seemed like just as we got the tire hauled up on the boat Meghan called out again that she needed two lift bags… Alli repeated the drill, and this time she hauled two tires over to the boat. I was exhausted just thinking about the energy it took her to swim and drag 100 pounds of rubber.
Once she got the tires to us, we hauled them up using the davit that was on the stern.
Just then Jeff Leicher (owner of JDL) popped up behind the boat and said he had a battery. He hoisted it onto the rear dive step and backed away to take his fins off. At that moment a wave came along and rocked the boat, sending the battery off the platform and back to the bottom. Jeff watched in horror as the battery missed hitting one of the divers who was on the bottom. It hit the sand about 2 feet away from Mark. While Mark didn’t see it dropping, his wife Marjorie did. But there was nothing she could do about it. Luck was on our side and no one got hurt. Freaked out? You bet…
Jeff was determined to get that toxic box, so he went back down with a milk crate and sentit back up with a lift bag! Whew.
At this time, everyone was heading back to the boat with their catch of the day. We got all the divers back onboard and headed home.
When we got back to the docks, we weighed the container that held all the fishing lines and lures. It weighed 27 pounds. Add that to the three tires and Jeff's hard-won truck battery (!) and in all the debris weighed about 200 pounds.
While we didn’t find as much fishing line as we thought would be there, it was still a nice haul. Everyone was glad to take part in the cleanup.
Thank you to our partners in ocean defense Keller Laros, Teri and Jeff Leicher and Jack's Diving Locker, and all the great volunteers who gave of their time and energy to give back to the oceans since we get so much beauty and enjoyment from the seas...
If you want to see gorgeous fish and graceful mantas has more clean and healthy waters to swim in, please become one of their defenders by donating to keep our boats and crews at sea. Thank you!