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Groups sue over Maui resort lights that disorient seabirds

February 8, 2022 GMT

HONOLULU (AP) — Bright lights at a luxury Hawaii resort are killing endangered seabirds, according to a lawsuit filed Monday by conservation groups that say hotel officials need to do more to protect the species.

Artificial lights at Maui’s Grand Wailea disorient Hawaiian petrels as they navigate between breeding colonies and the ocean, the Conservation Council for Hawaii and the Center for Biological Diversity said.

The seabirds can mistake the lights for the moon and stars they instinctively use as a guide to fly out to sea.

During the fledging season from late September to early December, Hawaiian petrels heading to sea for the first time are drawn to artificial lights, circling them until they fall to the ground from exhaustion or hit human-made structures, the lawsuit said. Even grounded birds that aren’t injured may not be able to take off again and could die.

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Adult birds, which are on Maui from February through October, are also attracted to the lights and end up injured or killed, the lawsuit said.

From 2008 to 2021 at least 15 Hawaiian petrels were attracted to the Grand Wailea’s lights, and at least one was found dead, the lawsuit said.

Protecting all wildlife in the community is important to the resort, a spokesperson at Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, said in a statement.

“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 statement said. “While we do not comment on pending legal matters, we will respond appropriately to correct any misunderstandings about our record.”

The Grand Wailea modified some lights after the groups sent it a letter last year threatening a lawsuit, the groups said in a news release.

“The Grand Wailea knows that its lights are harming imperiled seabirds on Maui,” said Leinā’ala Ley, an attorney with environmental legal organization Earthjustice, which is representing the groups. “This isn’t rocket science — there are pragmatic, straightforward solutions the resort could — and, by law, should — be pursuing.”

The lawsuit says Grand Wailea light fixtures that are particularly harmful to seabirds include “unshielded spotlights, mercury vapor and metal halide lights, lighting in large pools, and beachfront tree and path lights.”

It notes similar legal action against a Kauai resort resulted in the hotel implementing measures to reduce seabird light attraction and making monthly contributions to fund projects to benefit the seabirds.