Maui News

Lawsuit Threatened Over Alleged Lighting Impacts on Rare Birds Near Maui, Lāna‘i Airports

By Wendy Osher
July 1, 2021, 7:05 AM HST
* Updated July 2, 8:16 AM
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Newell’s shearwater photo by Brett Hartl, Center for Biological Diversity.

Two conservation groups provided formal notice of their intent to sue the state if it fails to take immediate steps to prevent bright lighting at state-operated airports and harbors on Maui and Lāna‘i. The environmental groups, represented by Earthjustice, say the lights distract three species of critically imperiled seabirds resulting at times in injury or death.

Similar action was taken several years ago on Kauaʻi when the Center for Biological Diversity and the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i sued the state Department of Transportation saying the “seabirds circle the bright lights at the department’s facilities until they fall to the ground from exhaustion or crash into nearby buildings.”

Since then, the department has reportedly already taken steps to mitigate impacts on Kauaʻi.

Maui Now reached out to the DOT, which confirmed the letter containing the Maui and Lāna‘i allegations was received Wednesday morning. A spokesperson with the department said the Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation is preparing a response directly to Earthjustice regarding the letter and is reserving comment at this time.

In the Kauaʻi case, environmentalists cited information compiled by the Endangered Seabird Recovery Project, which found that bright lights contributed significantly to the “catastrophic” 94% decline in the population of threatened ‘A‘o (Newell’s Shearwater) on Kaua‘i since the 1990s. The long-term radar studies on Kauaʻi also noted that the lights contributed to a 78% decline in the endangered Ua‘u (Hawaiian Petrel) populations between 1993 and 2013.

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In Maui County, environmentalists say the largest Hawaiian petrel breeding colony is located in Haleakalā crater, and the second-largest breeding colony is located on Lāna‘i.

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Band-rumped storm petrels are a third species named in the notice, and are identified as endangered species. A breeding colony of Band-rumped Storm petrels was recently discovered at Hauola Gulch on Lāna‘i and “is only the third such colony to be identified in the state, making it an important site for future efforts to protect and recover this species,” according to a Center press release.

According to the environmental groups, “The department’s airport and harbor facilities are among the largest documented sources of seabird deaths from light attraction on Maui and Lāna‘i.”

The notice alleges that the lights used by these facilities are “tall, freestanding and exceptionally bright,” making them attractive to the threatened and endangered seabirds. “Additionally, coastal lights like those at Kahului Airport and Kahului Harbor cause more fallout than inland lights, meaning these lights are particularly dangerous for the seabirds,” according to the Center’s claims.

Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served more than 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.
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