Settlement reached in Maui light pollution case over endangered seabirds

After a court case and lengthy settlement negotiations, the Maui resort of Grand Wailea has agreed to take steps to protect the endangered Hawaiian petrels, a medium-sized, nocturnal species of seabird also known as the “ua’u.”

Hawaiian petrels are endangered due to threats from artificial lighting, introduced predators, historical hunting, feral ungulates, and collisions with cell phone towers, wind farms, and utility poles, according to the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Hawaiian petrels have been the focus of a recently settled environmental lawsuit. Courtesy of DLNR/Jim Denny

In the Grand Wailea case, environmental groups sued the hotel in February to force it to adjust its lighting. The plaintiffs argued that the resort’s bright lights attracted petrels, which, becoming confused and exhausted, fell to the ground and either died or were attacked by predators.

With an agreement now complete, Grand Wailea has agreed to take protective measures, including dimming and adjusting lighting. The Conservation Council for Hawaii and Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit was brought by Earthjustice, an environmental law firm.

In a joint press release Tuesday, the Grand Wailea’s general manager said the resort has removed, replaced, screened and dimmed lights throughout the property as part of its “deep commitment to protecting Hawaiian seabirds.”

“We will continue to monitor seabird activity on the property and contribute to outside projects to protect the ‘ua’u,” said JP Oliver.

Maxx Phillips, Hawaii director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in the release that the settlement gave the petrel population “a chance of survival.”

The parties reached the agreement on Oct. 21, just days before Maui Mayor Michael Victorino signed into law Bill 21, which will limit the amount of light pollution allowed on the island. The measure requires all outdoor lighting fixtures, with the exception of neon, to emit no more than 2% blue light. Mercury vapor may no longer be used for new outdoor lights.

All outdoor lighting, with the exception of neon, must also be downward facing and fully shielded.

The new law contains exceptions and will come into force on July 1 with a three-year transition period. Most residential properties, with the exception of seaside homes, are exempt from the new lighting restriction, as are evening sporting and cultural events and emergency services.

Kelly King, the South Maui councilman who sponsored the legislation, previously said dark night skies have important cultural, astronomical and tourist values, all of which are threatened by artificial light pollution. The goal of her bill is to “honor the biodiversity and culture of the Aina in the community first,” King said.

Comments are closed.