Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 18, 2017

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

Federal Analysis: Kauai Power Lines Kill 1,800 Endangered Seabirds a Year

Scientists Project Island's Newell's Shearwaters Could Be Extinct in 30 Years

LIHUE, Hawaii— A scientific analysis completed for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity estimates that 1,800 endangered seabirds are killed by collisions with power lines on Kauai every year. 

Newell’s shearwaters and Hawaiian petrels — two seabirds protected under the Endangered Species Act — are nocturnal and only come ashore to their breeding colonies at night. That makes them particularly susceptible to collisions with power lines, which are virtually invisible after dark.

The new analysis predicts all seabird colonies on Kauai will disappear by as early as 2050. While the seabirds face many threats, including invasive species, habitat loss and attraction to artificial lights, until now the magnitude of the danger from power-line collisions was unknown.

“Without dramatic changes to these power lines and significant conservation resources to reduce the damage, Kauai will lose these incredible seabirds forever,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center. “Stopping power lines from killing so many seabirds will be an enormous challenge, and both the federal and state government must help the people of Kauai solve this problem.”

In 1992 Hurricane Iniki struck Kauai and knocked down most of the power lines on the island. When they were rebuilt, the cables were aligned vertically to save time and money. These vertical lines form an invisible fence that seabirds crash into at full speed, which either kills them outright or injures them. Earlier this year, a scientific paper documented a 94 percent decline in Newell’s shearwaters from 1993 to 2013. 

Now the island’s electric utility cooperative is taking action to remove the top power line from each tower, realigning some of the lines and experimenting with lasers to make the obstacles visible to seabirds.

“The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative is taking some important steps, but time is not on these birds’ side,” said Hartl. “To save them from extinction, officials need to fence off and protect the remaining colonies in the forest, reduce artificial lighting all around the island and deal with the remaining power lines.”

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 Island. 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.

The Hawaiian petrel was protected as endangered in 1967 and 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. 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.

Newell's shearwater

Newell's shearwater photo by Brett Hartl, Center for Biological Diversity. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.5 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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