A Barau petrel is released by Samantha Renault, caretaker of the Réunion Ornithological Studies Society (SEOR), in Champ-Borne, Saint-André, on May 6, 2022.

On a small cliff overlooking the swell-tossed Indian Ocean, Samantha Renault holds a Barau petrel in the palm of her hands. The seabird spreads its wings almost a meter wide and flies over the black pebble beach before, in the distance, merging with the milky sky. “Releasing a wild animal is always moving. I do not get enough “, said this caretaker from the Society for Ornithological Studies of Reunion Island (SEOR) with a smile. This Friday, May 6, another Barau petrel, a protected endemic species, and in danger of extinction according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, will be released, after passing through the association’s care center. .

In Reunion, the “Nights without lights” campaign has officially ended since May 4. But the young petrels of Barau, which come out of their burrow located at altitude in the walls of the Piton des Neiges, Gros Morne and Grand Bénare, these mountains dominating the island, continue to run aground on the coast. The month of April is the time when these juvenile birds, according to an immutable life cycle, leave the nest to head out to sea, more than 60 kilometers from the coast of Reunion. They stay at sea for more than three years before returning to the island, on the cliff where they were born, to mate.

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“When the juveniles leave the heights to go offshore, they are programmed to follow the reflection of the moon on the ocean or the reflection of the stars, explains Christian Léger, president of the SEOR. But these young birds, whose visual system is not fully developed, can be stranded on the coast after being confused by the light pollution of our roads, our industrial installations or commercial signs. » A real problem, since once on the ground the petrels of Barau are unable to take off again.

The risk is that these young birds will starve to death, be run over by a car or eaten by a dog, cat or rat. To reduce the number of these strandings of juvenile birds, the SEOR launched in 2009 “Nights without lights”. The operation consists of getting local authorities or companies to turn off the most powerful outdoor lights throughout the month of April.

“Real empathy” of the population

“More and more municipalities are playing the game, welcomes the president of the SEOR. In 2009, the operation was limited to two or three nights. Now it’s a full month. We feel progress. » In Saint-Denis, in April, the southern boulevard, which crosses the whole city halfway up, is therefore no longer lit. This can annoy motorists. Like Jean, 57, who says he was caught driving, “because of black” by a large puddle of water and which has “almost went aquaplaning”. “I am not an anti-ecologist, warns the Dionysian, who requests anonymity. It’s very good to want to save the petrels, but we endanger motorists, bikers, cyclists, pedestrians. Maybe there are other solutions? »

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