Laser fence upgrades part of KIUC’s expanded efforts to protect endangered seabirds

Photo: Shelley Paik, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative

An endangered seabird on Kauai is getting a helping hand.

“Kauai is actually fortunate to have 90% of the worlds population of the Newell’s Shearwater and they are pretty amazing birds,” said Dr. Andre Raine with the Kaui Endangered Seabird Recovery Project.

The Newell’s Shearwaters head out to sea during the day and go back to their burrows at night. The power lines on the way to their burrows aren’t easily visible and it causes some serious problems.

“We have power lines that go all around the island and the birds they obviously have trouble seeing them because the lines stretch across the fly paths,” said Raine.

The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative and Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project came up with a plan. They installed 30 lasers on utility poles in ‘Ele’ele which creates what they call a light fence.

“So we are firing the lasers in front of the lines and the idea is make the lines more visible,” said Raine.

Photo: Shelley Paik, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative
Photo: Shelley Paik, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative

After more than year of positive results the laser experiment will continue. Starting this month new lasers will be installed and testing will run through December.

“The biologists observed birds flying above the light fence to avoid it, but it is too soon to tell if the experiment is a success, so that is why we are continuing the project,” said Shelley Paik with KIUC.

The lasers run parallel to the ground and pose no threat to aircraft or people.

“If they are effective we can look at other areas where there are issues with power line strikes and perhaps use them in those areas as well,” said Raine.

In addition to the lasers, the groups will be 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 lasers are also meant to keep other endangered seabirds safe as well. The devices are being attached to spans of power lines along Kaumualii Highway west of Hanapēpē and south of Kīlauea near the intersection of Kūhiō Highway and Ko‘olau Road.

KIUC, in partnership with government agencies and conservation organizations, is the primary funding source for research into wildlife habitat protection on Kauaʻi.

KIUC spends nearly $2 million a year to protect endangered wildlife, including research, power line and lighting reconfiguration, habitat restoration and predator control and injured bird rehabilitation. These experimental techniques, if effective, could drastically reduce the cost to KIUC and its members for protecting endangered seabirds.

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