Playing Football In The Sunshine

The lights at Vidinha Stadium confuse endangered Newell’s shearwaters, which use the moon to navigate at night

Sept. 11: If you’re from Kaua’i, you’ll likely remember that day for the rest of your life. Hurricane Iniki struck the Garden Isle with so much force, there are still little reminders all around us of this destructive storm. And, of course, for all Americans that date is as powerful as Dec. 7.

And now we’ll remember this date for another reason. It may have been the last time we’ll ever see Friday night high school football games on the island.

The fledgling season for Newell’s shearwaters has begun and continues through the rest of the football season. These birds travel from the sea to mountainous regions on the island to nest their young.

On their way back, these threatened species use the moon to navigate them to their surroundings.

But the strong, overpowering lights at Vidinha Stadium confuse them, and some even fall to the ground and die.

High school football games will no longer be held at night at the stadium

State and federal laws protect the shearwaters, and the county faces stiff fines and penalties if it doesn’t make certain accommodations to keep the birds safe. So far, according to state wildlife officials, about 30 birds have been found around the area where the stadium sits. Fines run up to $10,000 for each kill.

Some fixes have been suggested, including changing or altering the lights, but none has proven to be a viable alternative to shutting down the lights altogether.

Plus, with the county already cash-strapped, the time to spend money on this issue is out of the question. That’s why on Saturday, Sept. 11, the last game was played on the island under the lights. It was a tough pill to swallow for many fans, families and players, but wildlife officials said this is needed to keep the Newell’s shearwater, which is endemic to Kaua’i, here for generations to come.

I’ve talked to people on both sides of this issue and it’s just a very unfortunate situation. Wildlife officials do feel for the families and athletes and vice versa.

If we’ve learned anything from this issue, it’s that something’s gotta give, and for now it’s the people who love the atmosphere of football under the lights.

So now we all have one more reason to remember Sept. 11, whether it’s mourning the loss of “Friday night lights” or celebrating the day we got serious about preserving the graceful birds that are uniquely ours on Kaua’i.

Or maybe a little of both.

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