HONOLULU (KHON2) — In the wake of sea levels rising, there have been many islands impacted. This includes habitats for some land and marine life.

Sandy Beach has become the latest to welcome an influx of nesting refugees. Many more green sea turtles (honu) and their hatchlings along with Native Hawaiian seabird fledglings have come to Oahu’s shores.

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So, to ensure that these wee creatures have safe passage from their nest to the ocean, the City and County of Honolulu has temporarily turned off several of the lights at the very popular beach park.

“As stewards of these public lands, it is important for us to find a balance between the environmental, recreational, and cultural needs of parks users and the wildlife which enjoy these shared spaces,” said DPR Director Laura H. Thielen. “We hope that turning off these lights is a big first step in giving these precious young wildlife a better chance at survival, as well as an opportunity for the public to become more informed about this nesting situation.”

This effort is in conjunction with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, Mālama i Nā Honu, and the DesignLight Consortium, the Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) and electricians from the Department of Facility Maintenance.

“Mahalo to our government, non-profit, and volunteer partners who have guided much of the protection and education efforts for wildlife conservation,” added Thielen.

The lights have been deactivated on around a dozen free-standing and comfort stations at the Hālona Blow Hole-side of the beach park.

Having the lights turned out will help reduce the risk of disorientation for the honu and seabird hatchlings as they make their very first trek into the ocean.

“Our team has documented a significant increase in nesting by honu since 2020,” said Sheldon Plentovich, PhD, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Unfortunately, hatchling sea turtles can be easily disoriented by nighttime lighting. To help out honu, we can use artificial lighting responsibly by minimizing light, using amber or red-colored bulbs, and shielding light so that the bulb is not visible from the beach.”

Officials said the lights are scheduled to remain deactivated until biologists confirm the hatchlings have fledged from their Sandy nests. This is anticipated to occur through mid-November 2023.

“DLNR greatly appreciates the proactive efforts from the City and County of Honolulu towards the conservation and protection of our native seabirds and honu,” said Afsheen Siddiqi, Wildlife Biologist with DLNR.

Officials said the first six honu nests were found in mid-July and that there were approximately 72 eggs buried from undeveloped, blowhole-side of the beach all the way to Ocean Safety Lifeguard Tower 4B.

This led biologists and volunteers to erect barriers meant to protect the nests and to provide shielding from the lights.

“Hatchlings tend to emerge from their buried nests at night, guided by moonlight and other celestial light sources towards the ocean,” said Officials. “This makes the young honu prone to disorientation from artificial lighting, potentially leading them away from their intended ocean destination.”

At first, biologists believed they only needed to turn off the lights that were the closest to the nests; but they soon discovered that additional deactivation was necessary to protect the hatchlings on their journey.

“DLNR greatly appreciates the proactive efforts from the City and County of Honolulu towards the conservation and protection of our native seabirds and honu,” said Afsheen Siddiqi, Wildlife Biologist with DLNR.

There are also baby seabirds that experience disorientation due to artificial lighting. The lights cause the birds to experience exhaustion causing them to fall to the ground. Hence, they become more vulnerable to predators, starvation and vehicular collisions. This experience is referred to as “fallout”.

If you locate a seabird that has experienced “fall out”, then you can access resources here.

“We encourage any member of the public that finds a downed seabird that is away from their burrow to bring them to a drop-off location or a vet clinic like Feather and Fur, who have been active partners in seabird response over the years”, added Siddiqi.

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Because Sandy Beach doesn’t have evening closure hours, Officials are urging residents and visitors to respect the life of these creatures and leave them to their natural hatching process without interference.