KIUC finishes work to shield lights from endangered seabirds

All 3,049 streetlights on Kauai are now equipped with special shields designed to keep light from shooting skyward and distracting endangered, low-flying seabirds.

Carrying on a tradition begun by Kauai Electric, employees of Kauai Island Utility Cooperative recently completed installation of shields on the outdoor lighting fixtures.

It is an effort noticed by representatives of agencies of the federal government.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is very pleased with the intense effort that brought KIUC’s lamp-replacement program to a successful conclusion,” said Paul Henson, field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific islands fish and wildlife office.

“We are continuing to work cooperatively with the utility on other KIUC-initiated measures that will help promote recovery of these two seabird species,” he said.

Hawaiian petrel are endangered species, and Newell’s shearwaters are protected. They breed and nest in mountains and near shores on Kauai, and spend much of their adult lives out at sea, feeding.

The Kauai Planning Commission routinely requires developers of new subdivisions and retail buildings to install shields on outdoor lighting, to keep light from shooting skyward.

In the late-fall months, fledgling birds leave their nests for the first and only time, bound for the sea where they will feed on their own for the first time.

Sometimes, lights distract and confuse the birds, and they crash into poles, buildings, or to the ground, and die or are injured.

Hawaiian petrel (Pterodroma sandwichensis) and Newell’s shearwater (Puffinus auricularis newelli) are sometimes rescued by humans in late fall.

In order to give the seabirds greater chances to safely reach the sea, employees of KE in the 1980s began gradually replacing unshielded streetlights on poles.

Hurricane Iniki in 1992 caused a major setback in the lamp-replacement program, as a shortage of shielded lights immediately after the storm forced utility workers to install many unshielded lights during emergency recovery efforts.

After completing disaster rebuilding, KE officials resumed efforts to phase out unshielded lights.

As it transitioned to KIUC, KE officials agreed to continue to partner with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials to help aid conservation and recovery of the native seabirds in a manner ensuring KIUC’s compliance with the Endangered Species Act.

Over the past 10 months, KIUC workers replaced the last 700 old-style lights on cooperative poles. Now, all 3,049 lights on KIUC poles follow Save Our Shearwater (SOS) program lighting recommendations.

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