Hawaii Island Dims Lights to Save Crashing Birds

Adrianne Appel on Kauai, Hawaii
for National Geographic News
September 19, 2006

It's lights out or else, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says to the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

Kauai is home to three nocturnal sea birds that are listed as endangered or threatened with extinction on the U.S. endangered species list. The birds, including the Hawaiian petrel, are rarely seen by humans and navigate by moonlight (map of Hawaii).

During the night artificial lights can confuse the birds and cause them to crash into telephone poles and other objects. For years people have found the birds' dead or injured bodies in the morning.

(Related: "Light Pollution Taking Toll on Wildlife, Eco-Groups Say" [April 2003].)

With the birds on the decline, the Fish and Wildlife Service has stepped in.

In a novel use of the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the agency is insisting that businesses and the county of Kauai turn down their lights at night.

"These species have been protected by the Endangered Species Act, and there's been no appreciation of the law," said Keith Swindle, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife special agent for the Pacific region.

The targeted birds also include the threatened Newell's shearwater and the band-rumped storm-petrel, which is likely to be listed as threatened soon.

Hawaii has more endangered and threatened species than any other U.S. state, so aggressive protective measures are warranted, Swindle says.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has asked that all nonessential lights be turned off between September 15 and December 15, when the young birds leave their nests for the open sea.

Malls, resorts, parking lots, and restaurants are all part of the campaign, which began in earnest in 2005.

In addition, the island's electric utility, the Kaua'i Island Utility Cooperative, has darkened all of its 3,000 streetlights, turning off some completely and shielding others. The utility has also installed large balls on its power lines to help birds avoid the cables.

Continued on Next Page >>


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