Maui Grand Wailea Resort Put on Notice for Lights that Kill Endangered Seabirds

Bright lights at luxury resort continue to injure and kill Hawaiian seabirds that live nowhere else on the planet


Leināʻala Ley, Earthjustice, (808) 599-2438

Maxx Phillips, Center for Biological Diversity, (808) 284-0007

Moana Bjur, Conservation Council for Hawai‘i, (808) 492-2387

Conservation groups in Hawai‘i represented by Earthjustice today sent a notice of intent to sue the Grand Wailea Resort for violations of the Endangered Species Act if the hotel does not fix its lights that are killing native seabirds.

For more than a decade, bright lights at the Grand Wailea Resort have harmed endangered Hawaiian petrels by disorienting the seabirds as they navigate between breeding colonies and the ocean. The letter of intent from the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i and Center for Biological Diversity comes just as petrels on Maui are entering the fledging season, which lasts from early October to late November. This is a critical time for adults to successfully return from the ocean to feed their chicks and for fledging chicks to make their way out to sea.

“After decades of Endangered Species Act violations, it is well beyond time for the Grand Wailea Resort to change its ways. There are commonsense fixes the Grand Wailea can make to become a responsible neighbor and protect Hawai‘i’s imperiled seabirds,” said Leināʻala Ley, an attorney in Earthjustice’s Mid-Pacific Office. “Otherwise, we risk losing species like the Hawaiian petrel, a unique bird that lives nowhere else on earth.”

The ʻuaʻu, or Hawaiian petrel (Pterodroma sandwichensis), is a federally endangered native seabird that travels thousands of miles across the Pacific to forage for squid and other marine life. During nesting season, when the birds return to Hawai‘i to mate and lay eggs, young adults can be heard making a distinctive, nocturnal “oo-ah-oo” call as they ride along coastal updrafts.

In October and November, after several months of gaining weight and strengthening their wings, young ʻuaʻu leave their nests for the first time, departing after dark to locate the ocean. Once chicks leave the nest, they won’t return to land for up to six years, when they’ll navigate back to their hatching site to breed. The largest ‘ua‘u nesting colony in the islands occurs on the volcanic slips of Haleakalā, where the birds dig burrows in the rocky soil.

“Fallout season happens every year on Maui at the same time,” said Moana Bjur, executive director for Conservation Council for Hawai‘i. “The Grand Wailea has no excuse why it doesn’t already have protocols in place to prevent fledgling deaths during this critical time of year.”

Hawaiian petrels use the moon and stars to navigate and are often distracted by artificial lights on their way out to sea. Disoriented birds will circle artificial lights until they fall to the ground from exhaustion or strike other human-made structures. Once grounded, it is difficult for ʻuaʻu to take flight, leaving them extremely vulnerable to predators, starvation, and being run over by vehicles.

While there are multiple sources of bright light on Maui, the Grand Wailea’s 40-acre property stands out among all hotels on the island as being particularly harmful to Hawaiian petrels. The Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project has documented unauthorized harming or killing of Hawaiian petrels at the Grand Wailea nearly every year since 2009, but the documented harm represents only the tip of the iceberg.

Other resorts and hotels in Hawai‘i have implemented responsible plans to protect imperiled seabirds from harmful lighting. On Kauaʻi, hotels like the 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay (formerly the St. Regis) have embraced wildlife-friendly measures like shuttering windows and doors at night during fledgling season, keeping fountain lights off during fledgling season, shielding floodlights, and implementing a search-and-rescue plan for downed seabirds. Across Hawai‘i, infrastructure such as street lights and power lines must be modernized to protect native wildlife like seabirds and sea turtles.

“Endangered ʻuaʻu are at a tipping point,” said Maxx Phillips, Hawai‘i director and staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It is everyone’s responsibility, including the Grand Wailea, to ensure these incredible birds are moving towards recovery, not plummeting into extinction.”

A Hawaiian petrel chick in its burrow.
A Hawaiian petrel chick in its burrow. (Andre Raine / U.S. FWS)

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