Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 28, 2017
Contact: Loyal Mehrhoff, (808) 351-3200,

Air Force Lowers Lights, Funds Conservation Efforts for Endangered Hawaiian Seabirds

Kokee Air Force Station Operations Shift to Save Shearwaters, Petrels

HONOLULU— The Center for Biological Diversity Monday withdrew a notice of intent to sue after the U.S. Air Force agreed to reduce light pollution from a Kauai facility to reduce seabird deaths and offset future harm to endangered Hawaiian petrels, endangered band-rumped storm-petrels and threatened Newell's shearwaters.

“We're glad to see the Air Force take solid action to avoid the tragic deaths of more endangered seabirds,” said Loyal Mehrhoff, the Center's endangered species recovery director. “Air Force officials have started doing what's needed, but there are still many other sources of light on Kauai that are killing these seabirds, as well as highly lethal powerlines that must be addressed.”

The Center filed its legal notice in June 2016 after lights at the Kōke‘e Air Force Station caused the death or fallout of more than 130 of the endangered seabirds in 2015. In response the Air Force re-initiated consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and agreed to reduce lighting at the facility that disorients the seabirds, causing them to circle and eventually drop out of the sky with exhaustion.

The new Air Force procedures are expected to reduce the downing or “take” of seabirds to approximately four birds per year. To offset these losses, the Air Force also agreed to fund predator control at existing seabird colonies.

The 2015 event at the Kōke‘e Air Force Station was both unique and especially damaging because most of the protected seabirds that were killed or downed were adult Newell's shearwaters and Hawaiian petrels, birds that take six years to reach reproductive age.

There are an estimated 21,000 of the rapidly declining Newell's shearwaters and 19,000 Hawaiian petrels remaining on Earth. Band-rumped storm-petrels are thought to have just 170 to 220 breeding pairs on Kauai. Seabirds in Hawaii are primarily threatened by introduced predators like cats, rats, pigs and barn owls, as well as by fatal collisions with power lines and downing associated with nighttime lights.

All three of these seabird species spend most of their time foraging at sea, but they return to Kauai's mountains and forests to breed. They excavate narrow burrows into the hillsides and lay a single egg each year. When the young fledgling birds leave the nest for the first time, they fly downhill to the ocean. These fledglings are easily distracted by bright lights along highways or other human structures and can become disoriented or exhausted, crashing into the ground or buildings. Many die on impact or are later killed by cats or cars before they can recover and fly to the ocean. Kauai's Save Our Shearwaters (SOS) program tries to rescue downed birds and release them back into the wild.

“The Endangered Species Act is one of America's most successful environmental laws,” said Mehrhoff. “Hawaiian species like the nene — otherwise known as the Hawaiian goose — and the alala, or Hawaiian crow, as well as hundreds of endemic plants have benefited from protections and conservation funding.”

More information on endangered species recovery trends can be found at

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.2 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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