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Conservation Groups Want a Maui Resort to Fix Lights Harming Native Birds

ʻuaʻu bird (Hawaiian petrel)
USFWS Pacific Region
ʻUaʻu (Hawaiian petrel) chick in its old burrow on the mountain.

Local conservation groups are planning to sue the Grand Wailea Resort in Maui for harming native birds, a violation of the Endangered Species Act.

The groups say bright LED lights covering the resort’s 40-acre property attract ʻuaʻu, or Hawaiian petrel, who confuse the artificial light as the moon. Turtles also move towards the LED lights, confusing its blue hue for the moon.

The case brought by Earthjustice says birds circle the light until they become exhausted and fall to the ground, injuring their wings and often dying. This process is known as "fall-out."

"These incredible birds are endemic to Hawaiʻi, which means that they are found nowhere else in the world," said Maxx Phillips, the Hawaiʻi director of the Center for Biological Diversity. "It would be so heartbreaking to see a species like this go extinct because humans couldn’t make small changes."

The Endangered Species Act gives those in violation 60 days to fix the problem. During this time, the Grand Wailea Resort must make changes to its lighting system to avoid a lawsuit.

Phillips says there are three changes the resort can make.

First, they can replace their LED lights with a light that filters out the blue hue.

They can also put a shield on top of the lights to stop birds from seeing the light when flying above.

Lastly, the resort can implement a better monitoring system, especially during the fledging season which lasts from early October to early December. During this time, fall-outs happen more often because the birds are laying their eggs on land.

With better monitoring, the Grand Wailea Resort can respond quickly to injured birds and bring them to a clinic for rehabilitation, Phillips said.

If changes are not made in the given time, the Grand Wailea Resort will likely face a lawsuit from several conservation groups in Hawaiʻi represented by Earthjustice.

The resort had no immediate comment.

Zoe Dym is a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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