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Dark Skies: Steps Toward Another Season Without Fallout

19 September 2022

From Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Bodie Estep, Pacific Missile Range Facility Public Affairs

KEKAHA, Hawaii - Kaua`i is home to a wide variety of bird species. Of these species there are a few that rely on natural light to guide them to sea.
Newell’s shearwater, Hawaiian petrel and band-rumped storm petrel, listed under the Endangered Species Act, plus the wedge-tailed shearwater, which is protected by the Migratory Bird Species Act of 1918, are all drawn to bright sources of light, man-made or otherwise. In an effort to protect these birds, the Dark Skies program runs every year from Sept. 15 to Dec. 15 to limit the amount of man-made light shining after dark.

Brooke McFarland, the natural resources manager for Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF), explained more about the program and its importance.

“This program is beyond turning off many lights,” said McFarland. “Events are planned around high-risk times (related to moon phase), surveys are conducted to ensure any birds that have fallen out on base are found, and there is a Save Our Shearwaters (SOS) aid station at Pass and ID to provide a safe place for birds that are found on base and need to be rehabilitated.”

It is important that everyone plays a part for this program to be successful and stop the extinction of these birds. The Newell’s shearwater, which is of particular concern, decreased 94% between 1993 and 2013. There are many simple ways to support the program. Keep outdoor lights turned off and use a flashlight or phone if a light is needed outside after dark. Being cognizant of any light possibly escaping from indoor lights through blinds or skylights can prevent birds from circling a light until they fallout from exhaustion. It is also advised to make sure to keep any pets on leashes and always keep an eye out for any fallen fledglings.

"If you see an awkward-looking dark bird with a white belly sitting on the ground, please stop nearby (where safe) and call the Natural Resources Hotline at (808) 208-4416 or (regional) dispatch at (808) 474-2222,” said McFarland. “If it is one of these seabirds, we will catch the bird for rehabilitation at SOS, where it will stay until it can be released. Please note the precise location (the bird may hide) and whether it is injured."

If for any reason a light must be kept on, a valid waiver is required. This is the same for any scheduled event. To start the process of receiving a waiver, please contact brooke.a.mcfarland.civ@us.navy.mil.

"Everyone on base is critical to the success of the Dark Skies program, and critical to ensuring the mission of PMRF continues through these fall months," McFarland said. "We have had four successful years, which is really a story of the base pulling together. Each light turned off and eye-on-the-sky is a step towards another season without fallout."

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