Groups threaten to sue hotel over protected seabirds
Conservation groups in Hawaii represented by Earthjustice sent a notice of intent Wednesday to sue the Grand Wailea Resort for violations of the Endangered Species Act if the hotel does not fix its lights that the groups say are killing native seabirds.
The groups in a news release said that for more than a decade, the bright lights at the Grand Wailea Resort have harmed endangered Hawaiian petrels by disorienting the seabirds as they navigate between breeding colonies and the ocean.
The letter of intent from the Conservation Council for Hawai’i and Center for Biological Diversity comes as petrels on Maui are entering the fledging season, which lasts from early October to late November, the news release said.
“This is a critical time for adults to successfully return from the ocean to feed their chicks and for fledging chicks to make their way out to sea,” the news release said.
While there are multiple sources of bright light on Maui, the groups say the Grand Wailea’s 40-acre property stands out among Maui’s hotels as being particularly harmful to Hawaiian petrels, which are also known as ‘ua’u. The Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project has documented unauthorized harming or killing of Hawaiian petrels at the Grand Wailea nearly every year since 2009, the news release added.
A spokesperson at the hotel said late Wednesday afternoon that they have received the notice of intent.
“Grand Wailea is committed to being a good steward, conserving Maui’s precious natural resources, and protecting native and endangered species. We are reviewing the letter, and we will respond at the appropriate time to correct any misunderstandings,” the spokesperson said in an email.
The news release said other resorts and hotels in the state have implemented plans to protect the seabirds. This includes the 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay (formerly the St. Regis) on Kauai where they shutter windows and doors at night during fledgling season, keep fountain lights off during fledging season, shield floodlights, and implement a search-and-rescue plan for downed seabirds.
Hawaiian petrels use the moon and stars to navigate and are often distracted by artificial lights on their way out to sea. Disoriented birds will circle artificial lights until they fall to the ground from exhaustion or strike other human-made structures. Once grounded, it is difficult for ‘ua’u to take flight, leaving them extremely vulnerable to predators, starvation, and being run over by vehicles, the news release said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.