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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 30, 2004

Bill would ban lights shining on ocean

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Declaring "light pollution" harmful to birds and sea life, environmentalists and fishing enthusiasts joined forces yesterday to support a bill that bans residents along the shoreline from aiming light fixtures into the ocean.

Despite reservations raised by the Department of Land and Natural Resources about enforcement, House Bill 1743 got initial approval from the joint house committees on Energy and Environmental Protection and Water, Land Use and Hawaiian Affairs. It now goes the Judiciary Committee.

Katie Swift, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said outdoor lighting that shines into the ocean can disorient the endangered hawksbill sea turtle, which may deter it from nesting on a beach.

"Lights can also confuse turtle hatchlings and they may be drawn toward streets and houses instead of dispersing to the ocean," Swift said. That results in the hatchlings being left too far inland to make it back into the ocean, she said.

Hawai'i Audubon Society lobbyist Naomi Arcand said bright, nearshore lights have the opposite but equally harmful effect on seabirds such as the endangered Hawaiian petrel and the threatened Newell's shearwater. Drawn by the brightness, "artificial lighting often confuses and disorients the birds, so much that birds will collide with objects or fly to exhaustion."

There was no testimony on the number of floodlights that shine on the water. But David Smith, treasurer of the Mokulua Fishing Club, submitted written testimony noting that the problem is magnified in Lanikai and Kailua, which are near three protected offshore seabird sanctuaries. Rep. Hermina Morita, D-14th (Kapa'a, Hanalei), the Energy and Environmental Protection chairwoman, also said she has seen floodlights shining on the water from Portlock to Kahala.

Wayne Dang, an avid fisherman, said floodlights scare off all sea life, including nocturnal fish, turtles, sea birds and monk seals.

Kat Brady, assistant executive director for Life of the Land, said Florida law prohibits lights on beaches and near-shore waters for the benefit of marine life.

Sam Lemmo, a DLNR coastal expert, said his department has no position on the bill. However, Lemmo told lawmakers that the department's jurisdiction applies only to the water and up to the shoreline as defined by the Coastal Zone Management Act. Zoning regulations for residential areas are under the jurisdiction of the respective counties, he said, and any efforts to eliminate light pollution should be directed toward those jurisdictions.

In response to Lemmo's concerns, Morita inserted new language into the bill making it clear that the DLNR would have the authority to regulate on-shore lighting directed into the water. "I believe the impact we're talking about is the source might be on property that is not directly under the control of the board, but is impacting the conservation area," Morita said.

Rep. Cynthia Thielen, R-50th (Kailua, Mokapu), said it is clear to her that the issue would fall under the DLNR's jurisdiction. Thielen said U.S. Fish and Wildlife could also play an enforcement role.

On Morita's recommendation, the committee also amended the bill so that it clarifies the Coastal Zone Management Act by asking the counties to "minimize and mitigate" lighting in nearshore areas.

Morita, said she would like to see how the law applies to residential properties, and then take a look at whether businesses should also be subject to lighting restrictions.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluladvertiser.com or at 525-8070.