Lifesaving lasers

LIHUE — Kauai Island Utility Cooperative is continuing to experiment with highly concentrated beams of light from low powered lasers attached to transmission poles and the use of bird diverters on power lines as part of its ongoing effort to protect endangered seabirds.

“We are experimenting with the use of this technology as it could be a rapid and cost-effective way to reduce line strikes by endangered seabirds,” said Carey Koide, KIUC’s transmission and distribution manager, who also oversees its wildlife conservation efforts.

Last year, KIUC, in collaboration with the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project (KESRP), created a “light fence” by attaching 30 lasers to transmission poles in Eleele. The seabirds fly in the dark because they only come to land after nightfall and the lasers create a visual “fence” in front of the power lines, allowing the birds to detect the lasers in the darkness and avoid the lines. Nighttime collisions are among the causes of death and injury to seabirds.

The lasers are similar to common laser pointers and use a narrowly focused green beam of light. Because the beams are parallel to the ground and because the installation is not in designated air space, the lasers do not pose a hazard to aircraft or passersby.

“This year, we have redesigned the laser controller module to provide us with more reliable on-off cycles and added wireless communications to each unit,” Koide said. “The lasers will be programmed to be on at alternating nights and biologists from KESRP will monitor the power lines during the test season.”

Lasers will be installed this month and testing will run through December.

“The initial testing of this redesigned unit at a wedge-tailed shearwater colony earlier this year yielded encouraging results, with shearwaters apparently avoiding the lasers the majority of the time,” said Marc Travers, avian conservation biologist with KESRP. “This gives us hope that the endangered Newell’s shearwaters and Hawaiian petrels will see the lasers and thus avoid power lines in areas where we know collision is a problem.”

The new lasers will be again be tested on power lines in the Eleele coffee fields.

In addition to the lasers, KIUC is installing bird diverters, known as “Firefly” units. The devices hang from the power lines and have reflectors and glow in the dark features that make them visible to birds in low light conditions.

The devices are being attached to spans of power lines along Kaumualii Highway west of Hanapepe and south of Kilauea near the intersection of Kuhio Highway and Koolau Road.

These are some of the methods that the cooperative is exploring to reduce the risk of seabird collisions and is part of KIUC’s Habitat Conservation plan and incidental take permit.

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