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Conservation groups notify Maui resort of intent to sue for lights that harm endangered seabirds

  • COURTESY ANDRE RAINE / KAUAI ENDANGERED SPECIES SEABIRD RECOVERY PROJECT
                                Conservation groups want to protect endangered seabirds, like this Hawaiian petrel chick, from disorientation from bright lights.

    COURTESY ANDRE RAINE / KAUAI ENDANGERED SPECIES SEABIRD RECOVERY PROJECT

    Conservation groups want to protect endangered seabirds, like this Hawaiian petrel chick, from disorientation from bright lights.

Conservation groups today filed a notice of intent to sue the Grand Wailea Resort on Maui for violations of the Endangered Species Act if it does not fix lights that it says are harming and killing endangered seabirds.

Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, filed the notice on behalf of the Conservation Council for Hawaii and Center for Biological Diversity. The notice informs the Grand Wailea of the intent to file a suit in federal court in 60 days.

For more than a decade, the groups said, bright lights at the luxury resort have harmed endangered Hawaiian petrels by disorienting the seabirds as they navigate their way from their nests and breeding colonies to the ocean.

The birds confuse the artificial lights for moonlight, which is how they usually find their way to the ocean.

Seabirds will circle these artificial lights until they fall to the ground from exhaustion or collide with human-made structures. Once grounded, they have a hard time taking flight again, and are also vulnerable to predators, starvation, or getting run over by cars.

Earthjustice said while there are multiple sources of bright light on Maui, the Grand Wailea’s 40-acre property stands out among all hotels on the island as being particularly harmful to Hawaiian petrels.

The Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project, for instance, has documented injured and dead Hawaiian petrels resulting from lights at the Grand Wailea nearly every year since 2009. But these, the notice said, only represent “the tip of the iceberg.”

“After decades of Endangered Species Act violations, it is well beyond time for the Grand Wailea Resort to change its ways,” said Leinaʻala Ley, an attorney in Earthjustice’s mid-Pacific office, in a news release. “There are commonsense fixes the Grand Wailea can make to become a responsible neighbor and protect Hawaii’s imperiled seabirds. Otherwise, we risk losing species like the Hawaiian petrel, a unique bird that lives nowhere else on earth.”

Earthjustice has filed similar suits over the years against the Hawaii Department of Transportation over airport and harbor lights, as well as Maui County over LED streetlights, and the former St. Regis Princeville Resort on Kauai over bright lights.

The St. Regis Princeville, now 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay on Kauai, in 2010 agreed to a settlement to lower and shield lighting on its property and fund programs working to restore endangered and threatened seabird species.

The Hawaiian petrel, also known as uau due to their distinctive calls, is federally listed and protected as an endangered, native seabird.

The birds are particularly vulnerable in October and November, known as “fallout season,” when fledgling chicks leaving their nests to fly out to sea for the first time end up falling due to artificial light disorientation.

Moana Bjur, executive director for Conservation Council for Hawaii, said fallout season happens at the same time every year on Maui.

“The Grand Wailea has no excuse why it doesn’t already have protocols in place to prevent fledgling deaths during this critical time of year,” she said in the news release.

Grand Wailea’s public relations firm responded to the Star-Advertiser in a statement: “Grand Wailea is committed to being a good steward, conserving Maui’s precious natural resources, and protecting native and endangered species. We are reviewing the letter, and we will respond at the appropriate time to correct any misunderstandings.”

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