Conservation groups sue Grand Wailea claiming “lights harm endangered seabirds”
Conservation groups in Hawai‘i represented by Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on Monday against Maui’s Grand Wailea Resort claiming bright lights at the 40 acre property attract Hawaiian petrels, “frequently leading to their grounding and death.”
The lawsuit says the endangered ‘ua‘u seabirds, which breed nowhere else on the planet, have become disoriented by the resort’s bright lights as they navigate between breeding colonies and the ocean.
Last year the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i and Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter of intent to sue, warning that the lighting impacts on Hawaiian petrels are “in violation of the Endangered Species Act.”
A spokesperson at Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort responded to Maui Now’s request for comment saying:
“Grand Wailea has made sustainability and stewardship part of everything we do – from eliminating single-use plastics to prioritizing native plants and promoting reef-safe sunscreen. Protecting all wildlife in our community is of the utmost importance to us. To that end, we partnered with a leading local expert to assist our efforts to ensure native and endangered bird species can seamlessly coexist and flourish in and around Grand Wailea.”
The conservation groups acknowledged that the resort modified some lights in response to the letter, but said there was still a grounded fledgling recovered during the 2021 fallout season, “indicating ongoing harm to the species.”
Moana Bjur, executive director at Conservation Council for Hawai‘i said, “It is our hope that we can come to a resolution with the Grand Wailea before the next fledging season begins in September. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is about to declare that eight native Hawaiian birds are now officially extinct. We need to do everything we can to prevent the Hawaiian petrel from being added to that list.”
“There are pragmatic, straightforward solutions the resort could — and, by law, should — be pursuing,” said Leinā‘ala Ley, an attorney in Earthjustice’s Mid-Pacific Office in a joint press release. “We’re taking the Grand Wailea to court to ensure the resort becomes a responsible neighbor, rather than watch native birds like the Hawaiian petrel disappear.”
According to the conservation groups, the largest ‘ua‘u nesting colony is along volcanic burrows at Haleakalā. The birds reportedly use the moon and stars to navigate out to sea, but can become distracted and disoriented by artificial lights, becoming exhausted and falling to the ground.
“Once grounded, it is difficult for ‘ua‘u to take flight, leaving them extremely vulnerable to predators, starvation, and being run over by vehicles,” according to the release.
The groups note that since 2008 the Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project has documented unauthorized harming or killing of Hawaiian petrels at the Grand Wailea an average of once per year, but say the documented harm “represents only the tip of the iceberg,” with grounded seabirds being eaten by predators prior to being recovered.
The groups point to other hotels that have taken more aggressive measures, such as “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.”
According to the resort, “While we do not comment on pending legal matters, we will respond appropriately to correct any misunderstandings about our record.”