Conservation Groups Intend to Sue Grand Wailea Resort for “Bright Light” Impacts

Hawaiian petrel chick in its old burrow on the mountain. Photo credit: Andre Raine/Kaua’i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project.

Conservation groups in Hawai‘i represented by Earthjustice sent a notice of intent to sue the Grand Wailea Resort on Maui for alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act if the hotel does not fix lights that the groups says are impacting native seabirds.

The resort responded to the news saying, “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.”

The letter of intent from the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i and Center for Biological Diversity comes as petrels on Maui are entering the fledging season, which lasts from early October to late November. Members say this is a critical time for adults to successfully return from the ocean to feed their chicks and for fledging chicks to make their way out to sea.

The groups allege that bright lights at the resort have harmed endangered Hawaiian petrels by disorienting the seabirds as they navigate between breeding colonies and the ocean.

Earthjustice Mid-Pacific Office attorney, Leināʻala Ley said there are “commonsense fixes” that can be done; otherwise, she said, “we risk losing species like the Hawaiian petrel, a unique bird that lives nowhere else on earth.”

The ʻuaʻu, or Hawaiian petrel (Pterodroma sandwichensis), is a federally endangered native seabird that travels thousands of miles across the Pacific to forage for squid and other marine life.  During nesting season, when the birds return to Hawai‘i to mate and lay eggs, young adults can be heard making a distinctive, nocturnal “oo-ah-oo” call as they ride along coastal updrafts.

In October and November, after several months of gaining weight and strengthening their wings, young ʻuaʻu leave their nests for the first time, departing after dark to locate the ocean. Once chicks leave the nest, they won’t return to land for up to six years, when they’ll navigate back to their hatching site to breed. The largest ‘ua‘u nesting colony in the islands occurs on the volcanic slips of Haleakalā, where the birds dig burrows in the rocky soil. 

Conservation groups say Hawaiian petrels use the moon and stars to navigate and are often distracted by artificial lights on their way out to sea. “Disoriented birds will circle artificial lights until they fall to the ground from exhaustion or strike other human-made structures. Once grounded, it is difficult for ʻuaʻu to take flight, leaving them extremely vulnerable to predators, starvation, and being run over by vehicles,” according to the groups.

Other resorts and hotels in Hawai‘i have implemented plans to protect imperiled seabirds from lighting. On Kauaʻi, hotels like the 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay (formerly the St. Regis) have taken wildlife-friendly measures like shuttering windows and doors at night during fledgling season, keeping fountain lights off during fledgling season, shielding floodlights, and implementing a search-and-rescue plan for downed seabirds.

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