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Friday, May 3, 2024
Maui: Enviros File Another Bird Lights Lawsuit
By News Release @ 12:06 AM :: 1315 Views :: Maui County, Environment, Greenmail, Tourism

Despite settlement, conservation groups say Hawaii resort’s bright lights still harming endangered bird

In a new complaint, conservation groups say outdoor lights at the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa in Maui are attracting endangered Hawaiian petrels and grounding them. It's the second such lawsuit in just two years.

by Hillel Aaron, Court House News, May 2, 2024

A grounded petrel was found near this fountain at Maui's Grand Wailea Resort. (A screen capture of a Trip Advisor photo included in the complaint)

(CN) — Two conservation groups sued a Hawaii luxury resort on Thursday, calling the hotel's bright outdoor lights "a major threat to the continued survival and recovery of the Hawaiian petrel," an endangered seabird.

"During the fledging season," the two nonprofits said in their federal complaint, "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 strike nearby objects."

Since the start of 2008, the conservation groups say, 18 petrels were "grounded due to light attraction" near the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa in Maui. At least one of the birds died.

This isn't the first the conservationists have gone head-to-head with the hotel in court.

Two years ago, the same groups filed a similar against the Grand Wailea, where rooms range from $800 to $4,600 per night. The two sides reached a settlement in that case November 2022, in which the hotel agreed to reduce lighting and implement other protective measures.

Still, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i say that migrating birds continue to be attracted to the luxury resort's outdoor lighting. Three grounded fledglings have been discovered near the resort since the settlement was reached in October 2022, the groups say.

"Two years ago we agreed to take a wait-and-see approach to assess whether lighting changes at the resort could stop the Grand Wailea from continuing to harm critically endangered petrels, but they didn’t,” Maxx Phillips of the Center for Biological Diversity said in a written statement. “We’re heading back to court to protect our native seabirds from the Grand Wailea’s destructive and illegal conduct.”

In an email, a spokesperson for Grand Wailea said: “We are disappointed by [the] decision to file a new lawsuit while we are engaging in good faith settlement discussions. Grand Wailea is wholeheartedly committed to protecting and nurturing Maui’s rich biodiversity, which is why we have worked tirelessly alongside local experts to implement best-in-class measures to ensure the safety of these seabirds. We have been and will continue to act in full accordance with the terms set forth in our earlier agreement.”

There are likely somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 Hawaiian petrels left in the world. (The birds are also known by their Hawaiian name, 'ua'u.) The largest surviving nesting colony is located on slopes of Haleakalā, a massive active volcano that takes up about three-quarters of Maui and looms over the Grand Wailea resort.

According to the conservation groups, the hotel is required by law to obtain a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allowing it to use outdoor lighting that won't further endanger the Hawaiian petrel. They say the hotel has not obtained the required permit.

“It is totally unacceptable for the Grand Wailea to prioritize its corporate profits over the wellbeing of our native seabirds,” Jonee Peters, executive director of Conservation Council for Hawai‘i, said in a written statement.

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Second Lawsuit Filed to Protect Hawaiian Petrels at Maui’s Grand Wailea Resort

Two years after the parties reached a settlement agreement, lights at the luxury resort continue to harm Hawaiian petrel chicks migrating out to sea

PDF: LEGAL DOCUMENT

News Release from Earth Justice, May 3, 2024

HONOLULU, HAWAIʻI — A coalition of conservation groups today filed a second lawsuit to protect Hawaiian petrels (ʻuaʻu) from dangerous lights used by the Grand Wailea Resort on Maui. Hawaiian petrels are protected as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. Today’s lawsuit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Conservation Council for Hawaiʻi and the Center for Biological Diversity.

Two years ago, the groups finalized a settlement agreement with the resort requiring it to implement lighting modification measures to minimize harm to endangered Hawaiian petrels navigating between breeding colonies at Haleakalā and the ocean. However, migrating birds continue to be attracted to, and harmed by, the resort’s artificial lights, as documented by the resort’s own monitors.

“Two years ago, we agreed to take a wait-and-see approach to assess whether lighting changes at the resort could stop the Grand Wailea from continuing to harm critically endangered petrels, but it didn’t,” said Maxx Phillips, Hawai‘i director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re heading back to court to protect our native seabirds from the Grand Wailea’s destructive and illegal conduct.”

For more than a decade, bright lights at the Grand Wailea have disoriented Hawaiian petrel fledglings leaving their nests and migrating out to sea. Since the settlement was reached in October 2022, three grounded fledglings have been discovered at the resort, including one that broke its wing after colliding with a wall.

Because of the difficulty in finding and recovering grounded seabirds, it is likely that the resort’s lights grounded twice this number of birds during the 2022 and 2023 fledging seasons. Fledglings that are not discovered die from dehydration, starvation, predation, and injuries. Today’s lawsuit aims to curtail the resort’s ongoing, illegal harm to Hawaiian petrels.

“It is totally unacceptable for the Grand Wailea to prioritize its corporate profits over the wellbeing of our native seabirds,” said Jonee Peters, Executive Director of Conservation Council for Hawai‘i. “Hawaiian petrels have great cultural significance, helping guide our ancestors to find fish to feed their families. We need to do everything we can to ensure they are around for future generations.”

The Grand Waliea is required by the Endangered Species Act to obtain a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that would allow the resort to use its lights if resort officials implement a plan that minimizes and mitigates harm to the Hawaiian petrels. Despite a formal demand that the resort secure the required permit, the Grand Wailea continues to operate in violation of the law.

“The Endangered Species Act flatly prohibits the Grand Wailea from harming a single Hawaiian petrel unless it first secures and then complies with a permit to ensure its activities will not push the species closer to extinction,” said Earthjustice attorney Leinā‘ala Ley. “The Grand Wailea has been violating that prohibition year after year, for over a decade. We’re asking the federal court to put an end to these flagrant violations.”

Today’s lawsuit was filed in the federal district court in Honolulu.

Background

The Hawaiian petrel, or ʻuaʻu, is a native endangered seabird protected under the federal Endangered Species Act and protected by Hawai‘i state law. The ‘ua‘u travels thousands of miles across the Pacific to forage for squid and other marine life. Hawai‘i is the only place in the world where the ‘ua‘u breeds, with adults returning to nest at the same site where they fledged after spending the first six years of their lives at sea. The largest surviving nesting colony occurs on the volcanic slopes of Haleakalā, above the Grand Wailea Resort, where the birds burrow in the rocky soil.

Fledgling ‘ua‘u leave their nests for their first flight to the sea from mid-September to mid-December. Some birds are attracted to and disoriented by artificial lights, circling the lights until they fall to the ground from exhaustion or strike nearby structures. Once grounded, it is impossible for ‘ua‘u to take flight from low-lying coastal properties like the Grand Wailea, leaving them highly vulnerable to predators, dehydration, and starvation unless discovered and rescued by humans. Rescued chicks have worse survival outcomes than their counterparts who are able to reach the ocean without falling victim to light attraction.

COVERAGE:

CB: Environmental Groups Sue Maui Resort Over Endangered Seabird Injuries

MN: Second lawsuit filed by environmental groups to protect Hawaiian petrels at Maui resort

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