For Immediate Release, March 4, 2010
||David Henkin, Earthjustice, (808) 599-2436
Maka‘ala Ka‘aumoana, Hui Ho‘omalu i Ka ‘Äina, (808) 346-5458
Don Heacock, Conservation Council for Hawai‘i, (808) 645-0532
Peter Galvin, Center for Biological Diversity, (707) 986-2600
George Wallace, American Bird Conservancy, (540) 253-5780
Groups Threaten Luxury Hawaiian Resort With Lawsuit Over Seabird Deaths
Starwood-owned Hotel Responsible for More Than One-quarter of Downed Newell's Shearwaters on Kaua'i
LÏHU‘E, Kaua‘i— Four citizen groups today advised the St. Regis Princeville Resort of their intent to sue over the luxury resort’s failure to prevent the ongoing deaths of rare native seabirds, in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act. The St. Regis is owned by Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which also owns the Westin, Sheraton, Four Points by Sheraton, W Hotels, and Le Meridien brands.
Hui Ho‘omalu i Ka ‘Äina, Conservation Council for Hawai'i, the Center for Biological Diversity, and American Bird Conservancy, represented by Earthjustice, sent a notice to the hotel saying they would file a lawsuit if the problems aren’t addressed. The groups sent a similar notice to the Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative on January 20.
The resort is responsible for the greatest number of deaths and injuries of imperiled seabirds on Kaua‘i due to artificial lights, while birds hitting the Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative’s power lines is another significant cause of mortality.
During the fledging season (from late September to early December), critically imperiled Newell’s shearwaters (‘a‘o) and Hawaiian petrels (‘ua‘u) heading to sea are attracted to bright lights in and around the resort, which is situated on a coastal bluff in an otherwise dark part of Kaua‘i’s North Shore that is an important seabird flyway. Trapped in the lights’ glare, the confused birds circle repeatedly until they fall to the ground from exhaustion or strike the resort’s buildings.
Data from the Save Our Shearwaters program indicate that, from 2000 to 2008, more than one-quarter of the total number of shearwaters downed by artificial lights on Kaua‘i went down at that one resort. Figures for the 2009 fallout season show a similar trend, even though the St. Regis just completed a $100 million renovation that reportedly included some lighting changes.
“Whatever they’ve done certainly has not resolved the problem,” said Peter Galvin of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It appears the resort’s renovation served only its high-end clientele, not the birds.”
During a 2009 tour, hotel representatives claimed that the resort had adopted several measures to protect the birds, including dimming interior lights and lowering polarizing window shades to minimize light visible from the exterior and keeping pool lights off. Unfortunately, only a week after those assurances were made, a site inspection on the night of October’s new moon, when fledging seabirds are particularly vulnerable to the attraction of artificial lights, revealed that none of these measures were being implemented.
“I asked a resort employee why nothing was being done for the birds and was told that, to improve the guest experience, they were under orders to keep the lights on and the shades up,” said Maka‘ala Kaaumoana of the Kaua‘i-based Hui Ho‘omalu i Ka ‘Äina. “It’s outrageous that, even when they know the community is watching, the resort so blatantly ignores its kuleana (duty) to stop killing our native seabirds.”
“Starwood knew about this problem when it purchased the resort,” said American Bird Conservancy’s George Wallace. “It’s a multi-billion-dollar corporation. It easily could take common-sense steps to protect the birds, such as installing motion detectors to keep outside lights from burning all night while its guests are asleep, and repainting its brightly colored buildings in darker tones to be less reflective. Instead, it has taken only token measures that are ineffective.”
Save Our Shearwaters program data for the 2009 season show that more than 60 imperiled seabirds came down at the resort this year.
“The Newell’s population has crashed by 75 percent in only the past fifteen years,” said Kaua‘i resident and biologist Don Heacock, a member of Conservation Council for Hawai‘i. “It can’t afford to keep taking these major hits, suffering this high mortality, year after year. We need to be promoting sustainable development on Kaua‘i.”
Jeff Chandler of Hui Ho‘omalu i Ka ‘Äina said losing the birds would create a significant gap in native Hawaiian culture.
“Since the ‘a‘o nest in the mountains and live at sea, they remind us that everything is connected,” said Chandler, a Kaua‘i fisherman. “We look to those birds to help us find fish, something we’ve been doing since ancient times.”
Earthjustice attorney David Henkin, who represents the groups, said the St. Regis has failed to seek an incidental take permit, as required by law, claiming that it is waiting for the State of Hawai‘i’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife to prepare an island-wide plan, which is not expected to be completed for another two years.
“As a multi-billion-dollar corporation that is single-handedly responsible for a quarter of the bird deaths, Starwood should not be asking Hawai‘i’s taxpayers to foot the bill for coming up with a plan for the St. Regis,” Henkin said.
Henkin said the St. Regis should apply for its own permit, which would require implementing effective measures to reduce the number of seabirds the resort kills each year, as well as efforts to offset unavoidable harm by helping to protect seabird nesting colonies from predators such as pigs, rats, and cats.
“Unfortunately, in the absence of any enforcement by the state or federal governments, St. Regis has had no incentive to comply with the law because the cost of noncompliance has been zero,” Henkin said.
A similar situation has also driven the groups’ legal action against the Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative.
“Doing nothing risks pushing Kaua‘i’s seabirds to extinction,” Henkin explained. “We’re sending a strong message that business as usual is no longer acceptable.”
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Earthjustice is a nonprofit, public-interest, environmental law firm. The Mid-Pacific office opened in Honolulu in 1988 as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, and has represented dozens of environmental, native Hawaiian, and community organizations. Earthjustice is the only non-profit environmental law firm in Hawai‘i and the Mid-Pacific, and does not charge clients for its services. For more information, visit www.earthjustice.org
Hui Ho‘omalu i Ka ‘Äina is a "taro roots" community-based organization founded by cultural practitioners in 1983 to restore, protect and preserve Kaua'i’s natural and cultural resources.
Conservation Council for Hawai‘i is a Hawai‘i-based, non-profit environmental organization with over 5,500 members dedicated to protecting native Hawaiian species and ecosystems for future generations. CCH is 60 years old in 2010. For more information, visit www.conservehi.org
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 255,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. For more information, visit www.biologicaldiversity.org
American Bird Conservancy conserves native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas by safeguarding the rarest species, protecting and restoring habitats, and reducing threats while building capacity of the bird conservation movement. For more information, visit www.abcbirds.org