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Kauai luxury hotel settles seabird suit

October 19, 2010
By AUDREY McAVOY, The Associated Press

HONOLULU - A Kauai luxury hotel and four environmental groups on Monday announced they've settled a lawsuit over the resort's alleged failure to protect endangered and threatened seabirds.

Under the Oct. 8 deal, the St. Regis Princeville Resort will further lower the lighting on its property, which can harm the threatened Newell's shearwater - known as ao in Hawaiian - and the endangered Hawaiian petrel or uau. It will also fund programs aimed at restoring populations of the species.

Four groups represented by Earthjustice sued the hotel in May, alleging it violated federal law by failing to prevent seabird deaths.

The seabirds follow moonlight to sea. But many of them - particularly recently hatched fledglings - mistake bright lights at hotels, sports stadiums and other places for the moon. This causes them to repeatedly circle the artificial lights and fall to the ground exhausted.

The Newell's shearwater seems to be particularly attracted to the lights. Its population is estimated to have plunged 75 percent over the past 15 years to about 20,000. Biologists say the species is on a trajectory to becoming extinct.

The hotel has taken steps to reduce its lighting in the past, including during a recent remodeling. It installed low-wattage shielded lights that attract birds less in its gardens and other outdoor areas.

Despite these and other steps it will adopt under the settlement, the hotel may not be able to stop all birds from being attracted to its remaining lights. The agreement thus also calls for the resort to fund efforts of conservationists to boost the species' populations.

St. Regis Princeville spokeswoman Stephanie Kaluahine Reid said she was unable to say how much money the hotel would spend to fund population restoration efforts. She also didn't know what additional measures the hotel would adopt to continue to reduce its lighting.

The four environmental groups welcomed the agreement.

"By turning off and turning down lights, the hotel is taking meaningful steps to minimize the attraction problem in this important seabirds flyway," said Makaala Kaaumoana of the group Hui Hoomalu I Ka Aina.

The other three groups in the lawsuit are the Conservation Council of Hawaii, the Center for Biological Diversity and the American Bird Conservancy.



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