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Day football on Kauai for the birds

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High school football games on Kauai will be held on Saturday afternoons instead of Friday nights this year to protect threatened seabirds.

The bright lights used during night games confuse newborn Newell’s shearwaters, which rely on moonlight to travel from their nests out to sea.

Every year, an estimated 30 shearwaters become disoriented and fall from the skies because of the lights at Vidinha Stadium.

Kauai’s resort and street lights also confuse the fledglings, and the birds sometimes die after colliding with power lines. The multitude of hazards have contributed to a 60 percent decline in the Newell’s shearwater population since 1993.

"If you project out the current trend, this bird’s going to be extinct in a matter of short decades," said Scott Fretz, a wildlife program manager for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Wildlife Program.

The Kauai Interscholastic Federation decided Wednesday to move game day, though the first two games of the season will still be held on Fridays because they fall before the fledgling season begins on Sept. 15.

Under federal and state laws, the federation can be fined up to $30,000 for each bird that dies.

Shielding the lights is an option, but state wildlife officials say it might be too expensive for the county and there’s no guarantee it would work.

"We tried to come up with different accommodations, like the location, having spotters, having people designated for birds, so every year, we’ve done a little bit more," said Diane Nitta, the federation’s executive director.

Faced with possible lawsuits, the county, which owns the stadium, declined to comment.


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