Swimming With The Manta Rays

(KHNL)- Since the Steve Irwin tragedy, tour operators on the Big Island say more and more people are coming from all over the world just for the chance to swim next to these awesome creatures.

Swimming with the Manta Rays has been described as one of the most amazing experiences here in Hawaii.

The day starts off with a boat full of people looking for adventure off the Kona coast.

"Its just an exciting thing, I can't wait!" says John Gibbs from Michigan.

Keller Laros has been taking visitors to see the Manta Rays for more than 25 years.

"We dive between 10 to 12,000 people a year in Kona with Manta Rays. It is a huge business and people come from all over the world," says Laros.

"The thing that makes the Manta Ray dive so special is that you get the opportunity to meet these beautiful majestic graceful creatures," Laros says. "Most people have never had a wild animal 15 feet across weighing a ton come two inches from their head. I mean, imagine a moose flying by you?"

The sun sets, and at night we gear up for our undersea encounter!

Along with their mask and snorkel, every diver gets a flashlight. Keller explains that the bright light will attract plankton which will attract the mantas.

"I can't even wait to see the huge manta rays!", exclaims Lisa Gibbs from Michigan.

At 40 feet deep, it doesn't take very long before we see them. 12 to 14 beautiful Manta Rays appear, circling around bright lights. And they, definitely see us.

Soaring like a plane, flapping their wings, it looks as if they're flying, or gliding in dark space.

At every turn, they scoop up plankton, their main source of food.

Their gracefulness and massive size are equally hypnotizing. But of course, we can only stay so long.

Some people make swimming with the rays a business, but for Laros its about spreading awareness and making sure they will be here for generations to come.

"Manta Rays don't reproduce very quickly and manta rays don't migrate," Laros explains. "So, if you fish for them, they're gone."

Currently, in places like Indonesia, manta meat is considered a delicacy.

"I really would like to have Manta Rays around for my children, and my children's children so everyone can enjoy them for future generations," Laros says.

Laros has been fighting for years to make it illegal to fish for manta rays in Hawaii.

That proposed bill will be considered in the next legislative session.