SEABIRDS AND ARTIFICIAL LIGHTS DON’T MIX

Lynn FullerFeatured Posts, Partner Projects, Research

Newells’s Shearwater chick   Photo – Andre Raine
Globally, Petrels and Shearwaters are the seabirds most affected by light pollution.


A new paper in Conservation Biology, Seabird mortality induced by land-based artificial lights, reviews the impacts of artificial lighting to seabirds across the globe. Researchers wanted to identify information gaps and recommend conservation strategies to address an issue that is impacting at least 56 species of seabirds globally–45% of which are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The Hawaiian Islands have a high number of reported events of seabird fledglings being attracted to lights. 

Birds that are attracted to artificial lights, especially fledglings, become disorientated and may die from their encounters.  “Fallout” of birds occurs when the birds are grounded, making them vulnerable to land based hazards such as predation, collisions, and starvation.

A downed shearwater, rescued by the Save Our Shearwaters project, is released at a release ceremony on Kaua’i.

One conservation strategy used on the Hawaiian Islands is the recovery of birds that have been grounded by lights. Several organizations in Hawaii are involved in seabird recovery–and are working in other ways– to improve the odds that some of Hawaii’s imperiled seabird populations will have a better chance of survival.

“Recovery programs are an opportunity to engage the public and educate them about the importance of seabirds and the threats that we must address to ensure their survival. Light distraction is a threat that we can correct and also reap the benefits of darker skies for other species, human health and astronomical observation.”   Jay F. Penniman, Manager, Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project

In the paper, the authors call for more research on how light-induced mortality is affecting seabird populations and additional study on how lights can be made more seabird-friendly. They also recommend additional documentation, research, and follow-up of birds that are rescued in recovery programs to determine the population level impacts of these programs.


Learn more:

Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project

Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project

Save Our Shearwaters

Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge


Outreach such as below has been helping to raise awareness and engage the public in seabird recovery.