Threatened bird brings an end to Friday night lights on Kauai

Newell's shearwater
Newell's shearwater
Rep. Jimmy Tokioka
Rep. Jimmy Tokioka

By Duane Shimogawa - bio | email

LIHUE, Kauai (HawaiiNewsNow) - A beloved Kauai tradition is going to the birds. On Wednesday, leaders decided to move regular season high school football games from Friday nights to Saturday afternoons.

It's all to save some threatened shearwaters.

Friday night lights is such an American tradition, Hollywood turned it into a movie. On Kauai, it's practically sacred.

"It's about bringing the community together, it's more than just a football game, it's a way of life," Lihue parent Lori Koga told Hawaii News Now.

But that way of life is being threatened by threatened species. The number of Newell's shearwaters, native to Kauai, is down 60% since 1993.

"If you project out the current trend, this bird's going to be extinct in a matter of short decades," Department of Land and Natural Resources Wildlife Program manager Scott Fretz said.

To save the birds, Friday night football games will be extinct, at least for the 2010 season.

The newborns of the federally protected birds fly from their nests to the ocean, right in the middle of football season.

But every year, an estimated 30 shearwaters become disoriented by the bright lights at Vidinha Stadium and fall from the skies.

Under federal and state laws, the Kauai Interscholastic Federation can be fined up to $30,000 for each bird that dies.

To keep from going broke, the KIF decided Wednesday to move the games to Saturday afternoons.

"We tried to come up with different accommodations, like the location, having spotters, having people designated for birds, so every year, we've done a little bit more," KIF executive director Diane Nitta said.

DLNR officials told Hawaii News Now that they're not saying the county needs to shut all of its lights.

"We've told them that's certainly the best thing they could do, but we recognize the importance of the football games to the community and we recognize that there are other things that can be done," Fretz said.

Shielding the lights is another option, but state wildlife officials say it may be too expensive for the county and there's no guarantee it would work.

Faced with possible lawsuits, the county, which owns the stadium, declined to comment.

"Sort of in the back of our mind, we realize that ultimately, until we can have facilities that the lights don't interfere with the birds, we would have to have games end before it gets dark," Nitta said.

It's a tough situation, in tough economic times and a sacrifice Kauai's football families may have to get used to.

"This is all the people have, we don't have the Ala Moana Shopping Centers, we don't have some of the things the other counties have for these kids and the entire community, to just go without having football games at night is really going to hurt the social fabric of our community," State Representative from Kauai, Jimmy Tokioka said.

Copyright 2010 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.