Maui News

HDOT Outlines Actions to Protect Seabirds Following Threat of Lawsuit

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Kahului Airport (Nov. 1, 2019) PC: Wendy Osher

The Hawai‘i Department of Transportation today outlined a list of actions it has taken recently to protect endangered seabirds at harbors and airports. The information is being shared after receipt of a letter on June 30, in which 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. 

The HDOT called the letter disappointing, given the actions that they have taken. “HDOT reaffirms its commitment to operate its facilities in manners which are protective of all sensitive species and are consistent with legal requirements,” the department stated in a press release.


The groups took similar action 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.”

“HDOT is proud of its efforts to avoid impacts to sensitive species on all Hawaiian Islands, including Maui and Lāna‘i, and remains open to meeting with environmental groups and other interested parties to explore effective ways of further benefiting listed and sensitive species,” according to the HDOT release.

Department officials say they proactively evaluate operations to conserve and maintain Hawai‘i’s natural resources. The department provided the following list of actions taken at its Harbors and Airports on Kaua‘i, Maui, and Lāna‘i to reduce impacts to sensitive species such as the Newell’s shearwater and the Hawaiian petrel:

  • Preparation of Habitat Conservation Plans for seabirds on Kaua‘i, Maui, and Lāna‘i. The HCP for Kaua‘i seabirds was approved by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources in 2020. HDOT continues to engage with FWS and DLNR on the management of its facilities and is actively working on a HCP for Maui, and Lāna‘i.
  • Installation of shielding on the energy efficient lighting at its Airport and Harbor facilities to minimize the seabird attraction of artificial lights.
  • Training for all on-site security personnel and employees. The training includes general seabird awareness, how to monitor and conduct searches for downed seabirds, how to respond to, rescue, and report downed seabirds if found, and how to conduct an effective predator control program to minimize injury to sensitive species. The training program includes additional on the ground training before the fall season.
  • Conducting searches of Airport and Harbor facilities for downed seabirds and predator control during fallout seasons.

In addition to “serving as a trustee of the State’s environmental resources including threatened and endangered species such as seabirds,” department officials say the HDOT must ensure Hawai‘i’s transportation facilities can operate safely “fulfilling the Federal Aviation Administration flight safety and airport security requirements, US Coast Guard security monitoring requirements, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration worker safety regulations”


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