Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 28, 2016

Contact:  Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121,

Legal Action Launched to Protect Kauai's Seabirds From Kokee Air Force Base's Bright Lights

 More Than 120 Endangered Seabirds Harmed or Killed Over
Two-week Period in 2015, Injuries Continue This Year

LIHUE, Hawaii— The Center for Biological Diversity today sent a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Air Force, and Kauai’s Kokee Air Force Base over a series of incidents in 2015 and 2016 that harmed and killed Newell’s shearwaters and Hawaiian petrels, two birds protected under the Endangered Species Act. Artificial lighting on the base disorients the birds causing them to either collide with the lights or crash in neighboring areas. Once grounded, the seabirds are unable to become airborne again and are killed by nonnative predators like cats and pigs. Unshielded, poorly designed lighting has been one of the main causes of decline for these two endangered seabirds.

Dead Newell's shearwater
Dead Newell's shearwater at Kokee AFB.
Lighting at Kokee AFB
Lighting at Kokee AFB. Photos courtesy USFWS. Photos are available for media use.

“Kokee Air Force Base has become a very dangerous place for these two endangered seabirds — it’s got to stop,” said Brett Hartl, the Center’s endangered species policy director. “The base’s slow response and careless actions have significantly set back the recovery of these two species. They need immediate action to permanently protect them from this unnecessary risk.”

More than a dozen Newell’s shearwaters were killed by Kokee Air Force Base in September 2015, and more than 100 were injured. During the same series of “fallout” events, at least one Hawaiian petrel was killed. Many of the remaining birds that were grounded were adults and needed to be taken to the Save Our Shearwaters rehabilitation facility. These adult birds may not have been able to return to their nests during the 2015 breeding season, and as a result their chicks likely did not survive either.

“These beautiful native birds deserve better than to die or get injured by flying into these lights,” Hartl said. “The federal government is in charge of protecting endangered species across the country but sadly they’re failing these endangered birds on Kauai.”

The Newell’s shearwater was protected as a threatened species in 1975. Its main breeding grounds are in the mountains of Kauai, although small populations are found on Maui and the Big Islands of Hawaii. Known by the Hawaiian people as the ‘a‘o for the moan-like call it emits when in its burrow, the bird is a small shearwater with a glossy black top contrasted by a striking white underside. It is estimated that the Newell’s shearwater’s population has declined by 75 percent over the past few decades due to introduced mammalian predators, light pollution and collisions with power lines.

The Hawaiian petrel was protected as endangered in 1967. The petrel is known to breed only within the major Hawaiian Islands of Kauai, Lanai, Maui and the Big Island. This rarely seen petrel is among the ocean's most wide-ranging marine species, and its regular voyages take it as far north as the offshore waters of Alaska and California. The petrel is known by the Hawaiian people as the ‘ua‘u for its haunting, nocturnal call.

In spring 2010 the Center and its allies filed notice of intent to sue the St. Regis Princeville Resort — as well as the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative — over some of the bright lights that were harming these two species. In a resulting settlement, St. Regis Resort agreed to change its lighting and contribute to the conservation of these seabirds. In 2011 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a five-year permit detailing the actions the utility must take to reduce the number of imperiled seabirds it kills and injures each year and to offset unavoidable harm.   

  The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Go back