KIUC using lasers to protect seabirds

LIHUE — Kauai Island Utility Cooperative is experimenting with highly concentrated beams of light from lasers attached to transmission poles in Eleele to protect seabirds.

The work, which began Monday night, uses 30 lasers to create a “light fence” that researchers hope will be visible to the birds and help them avoid collisions with utility poles and lines. Nighttime collisions are among the causes of death and injury to seabirds.

Carey Koide, KIUC’s transmission and distribution manager, who also oversees its wildlife conservation efforts, said researchers will experiment with different light colors and also turn the lights off to determine if the changes affect the number of bird strikes.

“As far as we know, this is the first time anywhere that lasers have been used to create a ‘fence’ for the birds,” Koide said. “The purpose of this research is to learn more about the birds and their patterns of activity so we can come up with ways to minimize potential hazards and do it in a cost-effective way.”

The lasers, developed by Oceanit of Honolulu, are being installed by KIUC personnel on six spans adjacent to the Kauai Coffee fields. The lights are visible from Kaumualii Highway and from higher elevations in Kalaheo. They are similar to laser pointers and use a narrowly focused green beam of light that is not hazardous to the eyes. Because the beams are parallel to the ground and the installation is not in designated air space, the lasers do not pose a hazard to aircraft.

If the experiment is successful, a similar system may be deployed on transmission poles along the Powerline Trail between Wailua and the North Shore, where bird collisions are more frequent. The light fence may provide a less expensive alternative to lowering or burying lines.

Threatened native species, including the Newell’s Shearwater and the Hawaiian Petrel, are especially vulnerable to death or injury from collisions with utility equipment because they fly in and out to sea at night and in the early morning and are at greatest risk during a new moon phase when the skies are darkest.

KIUC, in partnership with government agencies and conservation organizations, is the primary funding source for research into wildlife habitat protection on Kauai. KIUC spends nearly $2 million a year to protect endangered wildlife, including research, power line and lighting reconfiguration, habitat restoration and predator control and injured bird rehabilitation.

The research is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

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