Light Pollution is Bad for the Ecosystem
by: Davis Yancy Clegg
Millions of children around the world will never witness a starry sky. Packed tightly into suburban areas filled with streetlamps and sports arenas, the once dark sky has vanished from view. A 1994 blackout left residents of California frantically calling emergency services. The reports were of a strange, shining cloud in the sky. The people of LA were seeing the Milky Way Galaxy, for the first time. Distracted by the pollution of our own immediate resources, we have given little attention to the consequences of light pollution. Plant and animal life has survived on Earth for billions of years. They have done so using the predictable rhythm of night and day as a means to survival.
Northeast Florida is one of the top offenders in the nation according to NASA’s Blue Marble Navigator. The evidence found in the disruption of the region’s ecosystem agrees. One of the most affected species of wildlife is the Sea turtle. Treasured by the coastal community, Sea turtles can live to be 60 years of age. However, very few of them make it to such an age. Only one out of every 1000 hatchlings will see a full life. There are over a million hatchlings lost every year. A vast number of them are lost because of the amount of light pollution present around their nesting grounds. In early May, the mothers come to build their nests on Florida’s coast safe from the tide. When it comes time for the hatchlings to break free from their shells in October, it is the brightest source of light – the horizon in natural conditions – that guides them back to the ocean. If the light on a resident’s porch overtakes the brightness of the moonlit horizon, the hatchling follows the brightest light to its demise. Thanks to groups like the Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch, Inc., nests found on the sands of Fernandina Beach have a better chance at survival. The organization is comprised wholly of volunteers. While they do not offer the public access to join them in their daybreak searches, they do offer suggestions on ways anybody can help protect the turtles. Along with keep the beaches free of harmful debris, the group asks that residents dim their outdoor lighting during the nesting season. Certain species of birds may be affected by the lighting up the sky as well. Unable to properly navigate by the starlight, they may wander off their destined course into an unknown fate in the cities below.
Dr. Mike Reynolds, a member of the IDA (International Dark-Sky Association), teaches FSCJ’s students about light pollution and the environmental concerns surrounding it. A 6-mile asteroid that impacted the Yucatan region over 65 million years ago wiped out all dinosaur life on the planet. Could such an event ever take place again? On a smaller scale, it already has. The last incident of this kind of activity took place in the Chelyabinsk region of Russia. A fragment 150 feet across entered Earth’s atmosphere and exploded. Thousands of smaller meteorites pounded buildings and toppled walls. An estimated 1500 people were injured in course of the event. Dr. Reynolds commented on the matter. “There are not enough professional astronomers to cover the skies and search for incoming asteroids and larger fragments, called potentially hazardous asteroids (or PHA’s).” It is here where the astronomy community comes together to search for these asteroids. These PHA’s are spotted using cameras that are extremely sensitive to light. The pollution of light in the sky can make the search for these asteroids next to impossible.
If we continue to light up the night sky with commercial and residential outdoor lighting, the starry skies that still remain will fill up with light, and the dominoes will fall. Predators will lose their hunting grounds to commercial and residential outdoor lighting. Ecosystems will all fall victims to what can only be described as deception. The fatal attraction between insects and light will result in the decline of insect populations. This decline will affect all species that rely on insects for food or pollination. The only way – as with any pollution- to effectively change it is to reverse it. The simple act of conserving electricity and being conscious of the effect that light pollution has on the environment that surrounds you can make all the difference. Save a light, and save a life.
There is a beautiful sky to see here on Amelia Island.
Come join the Family Friendly Sunset Cruise and enjoy a magnificent sunset and the upcoming stars.