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A Lost Caws in Hawaii?

We must ask ourselves: how much do we care for our flying, feathered, or fishy friends? Wildlife is suffering at the hands of human activity and development. Outdoor light fixtures kill thousands of migrating birds, sea turtles, and other wildlife who are prone to mistake artificial lighting for moonlight, causing them to fly directly into such structures. For instance, in 2017, 398 migrating birds flew into the floodlights of an office tower in Galveston, Texas. Only three survived [1]. Additionally, lights that are visible from the sea can have an impact on how female sea turtles choose nesting sites and how “newly emerged hatchlings” find their way to the ocean [2]. Whenever turtles hatch – typically around nighttime – they identify the ocean's location as a place with a bright, open horizon. Artificial lights can confuse the hatchlings, and they may end up making their way inland rather than into the ocean. Failing the intervention of sanctuary groups, these baby turtles will die of dehydration, heat exhaustion, or (perhaps more mercifully) under the wheel of a motor vehicle. Thus, artificial lighting is not only harmful to sea turtles, especially hatchlings, but it is also dangerous.

Some solutions are already in place: the Empire State Building in New York City now goes dark overnight during peak migration periods to lessen the amount of artificial lighting [3]. However, such solutions should be extended to more buildings and commercial areas in order to protect birds from injuries caused by artificial lighting.

The Maui County Council in Hawaii has a new solution: Bill 21. This ordinance restricts outdoor lighting, specifically the amount of blue light emitted by the outdoor lighting fixtures, to prevent endangered species from crashing into artificially-lit buildings. Despite its benefits for wildlife, this proposal has ruffled the feathers of many natives who miss the bright lights of Maui’s popular areas and events, such as swimming pools, sporting events, and luaus, which have been either canceled or forced indoors [4]. Some have complained about the high cost of changing out bulbs and adjusting lighting fixtures [5]. Even the Office of Corporation Counsel, the chief legal officer who handles civil claims against the city, opposes the bill. In an earlier version of the bill, county lawyers objected with a list of reasons, including its implications for public safety and public events, including rodeos, outdoor concerts, and sporting events [6]. However, their reasoning is inadequate: light pollution is a serious problem, with severe implications for the environment, and should not be set aside for rodeos and outdoor concerts.

Bill 21 was revised to incorporate amendments that “exempt most residential uses” of light from the ban and “clarify the exemptions for evening sports events and emergency services.” [7] The Maui County Council passed Bill 21 on July 1, 2022, after the first of two required readings, and it was returned for further review to the committee at the request of administration officials on July 18 [8]. The council also adopted Resolutions 21-166 and 22-135, which both support the protection of biodiversity. Furthermore, Bill 21 highlights in Section 2 Provision C that mercury vapor shall not be utilized for new outdoor lighting fixtures nor its replacement. Provision D enunciates that outdoor lighting fixtures (except for neon) must limit the short wavelength content to no more than two percent of blue light content [9]. Blue light content means the ratio of the amount of light emitted by the outdoor light fixture between 400 and 500 nanometers, divided by the amount of energy between 400 and 700 nanometers. Also, all light fixtures must be fully shielded among the streets so that no light shines over the ocean. The provisions in Bill 21 are also part of Maui County Code’s Chapter 20.35, whose purpose is to “establish standards to limit degradation of the night’s visual environment.” [10]

Many practitioners and activists, including sea conservationists, astronomers, and environmental activists, have provided a scientific basis for the decision. Bill 21 is a perfect example of evidence-based legislation (EBL), which calls for legislators to consult reliable data when formulating laws. Even opponents are adjusting to the bill with the help of new products. Popular business outlets, such as Beachside Lighting Honolulu, Amazon, and Home Depot, now sell lights compliant with Bill 21 [11] as the county begins to install shielded streetlights.

There is an ongoing lawsuit by environmentalists against Grand Wailea resort on Maui. The lawsuit aims to protect endangered Hawaiian petrels by forcing the hotel to change its lighting [12]. Environmental activists argue that the hotel is violating the Endangered Species Act because they fail to take “adequate measures to protect the birds.” [13] The resort has denied the allegation and has asked for a judge to dismiss the lawsuit. If no settlement is reached in this lawsuit, a trial is set to begin the following year in April.

Bill 21 went into effect earlier this year and it has been announced that all of the lighting in Maui must comply with the ordinance by 2026. A past study has shown that, by doing this, there were eleven times fewer bird collisions during the spring migration, and six times fewer bird collisions during the autumn migration [14]. This represents a huge step forward for endangered animals in Maui. For the longest time, wildlife has suffered at the hands of human activity and development, and it is now time for that to change. Birds and sea turtles may not be people, but they also have a right to life that is inhumane to revoke.


[1] Tʜᴇ Wᴀsʜɪɴɢᴛᴏɴ Pᴏsᴛ, Tʀᴏᴜʙʟᴇ ɪɴ (Aᴠɪᴀɴ) Pᴀʀᴀᴅɪsᴇ: Mᴀᴜɪ Tᴜʀɴs Oғғ ᴛʜᴇ Lɪɢʜᴛs ғᴏʀ Iᴛs Bɪʀᴅs (Nᴏᴠ. 22, 2022), ʜᴛᴛᴘs://ᴡᴡᴡ.ᴡᴀsʜɪɴɢᴛᴏɴᴘᴏsᴛ.ᴄᴏᴍ/ᴄʟɪᴍᴀᴛᴇ-sᴏʟᴜᴛɪᴏɴs/2022/11/03/ᴍᴀᴜɪ-ᴏᴜᴛᴅᴏᴏʀ-ʟɪɢʜᴛɪɴɢ-ʀᴇsᴛʀɪᴄᴛɪᴏɴs-ʙɪʀᴅs/.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Supra.

[6] Supra.

[7] Mᴀᴜɪ Cᴏᴜɴᴛʏ Cᴏᴜɴᴄɪʟ, Uᴘᴅᴀᴛᴇᴅ Vᴇʀsɪᴏɴ ᴏғ Bɪʟʟ ᴛᴏ Pʀᴏᴛᴇᴄᴛ Nᴀᴛɪᴠᴇ Bɪʀᴅs Fʀᴏᴍ Oᴜᴛᴅᴏᴏʀ Lɪɢʜᴛɪɴɢ ᴛᴏ ʙᴇ Tᴀᴋᴇɴ Uᴘ Wᴇᴅɴᴇsᴅᴀʏ (Aᴜɢ. 20, 2022), ʜᴛᴛᴘ://ᴍᴀᴜɪᴄᴏᴜɴᴛʏ.ᴜs/ᴘʀᴇss-ʀᴇʟᴇᴀsᴇ/ᴜᴘᴅᴀᴛᴇᴅ-ᴠᴇʀsɪᴏɴ-ᴏғ-ʙɪʟʟ-ᴛᴏ-ᴘʀᴏᴛᴇᴄᴛ-ɴᴀᴛɪᴠᴇ-ʙɪʀᴅs-ғʀᴏᴍ-ᴏᴜᴛᴅᴏᴏʀ-ʟɪɢʜᴛɪɴɢ-ᴛᴏ-ʙᴇ-ᴛᴀᴋᴇɴ-ᴜᴘ-ᴡᴇᴅɴᴇsᴅᴀʏ/.

[8] Supra.

[9] Supra.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Hᴏɴᴏʟᴜʟᴜ Cɪᴠɪʟ Bᴇᴀᴛ, Nᴇᴡ Lᴀᴡ Wɪʟʟ Mᴀᴋᴇ Mᴀᴜɪ Tᴜʀɴ Dᴏᴡɴ Tʜᴇ Oᴜᴛᴅᴏᴏʀ Lɪɢʜᴛs Tᴏ Pʀᴏᴛᴇᴄᴛ Wɪʟᴅʟɪғᴇ (Oᴄᴛ. 10, 2022), ʜᴛᴛᴘs://ᴡᴡᴡ.ᴄɪᴠɪʟʙᴇᴀᴛ.ᴏʀɢ/2022/10/ɴᴇᴡ-ʟᴀᴡ-ᴡɪʟʟ-ᴍᴀᴋᴇ-ᴍᴀᴜɪ-ᴛᴜʀɴ-ᴅᴏᴡɴ-ᴛʜᴇ-ᴏᴜᴛᴅᴏᴏʀ-ʟɪɢʜᴛs-ᴛᴏ-ᴘʀᴏᴛᴇᴄᴛ-ᴡɪʟᴅʟɪғᴇ/.

[13] Hᴏɴᴏʟᴜʟᴜ Cɪᴠɪʟ Bᴇᴀᴛ, Mᴀᴜɪ Sᴇᴀʙɪʀᴅs Sᴛɪʟʟ Fᴀᴄᴇ Dᴀɴɢᴇʀ Fʀᴏᴍ Bʀɪɢʜᴛ Lɪɢʜᴛs (Aᴜɢ. 19, 2022), ʜᴛᴛᴘs://ᴡᴡᴡ.ᴄɪᴠɪʟʙᴇᴀᴛ.ᴏʀɢ/2022/08/ᴍᴀᴜɪ-sᴇᴀʙɪʀᴅs-sᴛɪʟʟ-ғᴀᴄᴇ-ᴅᴀɴɢᴇʀ-ғʀᴏᴍ-ʙʀɪɢʜᴛ-ʟɪɢʜᴛs/.

[14] Jenna Romaine, Amazing 40-year Study Finds Bird Deaths Cut Dramatically By Turning Off Lights at Night (The Hill 2021), Amazing 40-year study finds bird deaths cut dramatically by turning off lights at night.

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