How to Stop Light Pollution from Harming Wildlife

The human race is not renowned for its considerate and forward-thinking nature when it comes to those with whom it shares this planet. In fact, civilization and enlightenment tend to be inversely proportional when it comes to safeguarding the welfare of animals, plants and the environment in general.

However, with thanks to animal welfare groups such as Peta and ENGOs (environmental non-governmental organizations) such as Greenpeace and One Green Planet, we are learning and trying to reverse the damage already done. This duty to change our behavior to the critters around us does not only lie in the laps of world leaders and congress representatives — it is our responsibility, each and every one of us to take control and lessen our impact on animals and the environment.

The obvious ways we can do this are through choosing environmentally- and animal-friendly household and beauty products, buying locally grown food and choosing a vegetarian or vegan diet, and lastly through careful recycling and waste-management. However, what about the more subtle ways we impact animal life around us?

The Effects of Light Pollution on Animals and Plants

Life as we know it has evolved in accordance with the Earth’s natural clock — the reliable rhythm of day and night. In fact, it is actually encoded in the DNA all around us, both in plants and animals, and they rely on this daily light cycle to help manage their natural life-sustaining behaviors. And yes, you probably know what’s coming next…

Scientists have discovered that artificial light at nighttime disrupts the lives of animals and plants, especially nocturnal animals, and that in fact, our nightlights can be fatal for them. Research scientist Christopher Kyba says that for these nocturnal animals, “the introduction of artificial light probably represents the most drastic change human beings have made to their environment.”

In urban areas, night skies are sometimes thousands of times lighter than they were two centuries ago, which impacts the reproductive activities of amphibians and goes on to affect their future populations in wetland areas specifically.  A similar devastating effect can happen with baby sea turtles that, once hatched, are drawn toward city lights on the shore as opposed to the bright horizon on the sea. Every year in Florida, millions of baby sea turtles are reported to die as result of light pollution.

The list goes on, including migrating birds colliding with lit up buildings and the depleting number of insects due to attraction to artificial lights. A particularly tragic fact is the effect of nightlights on songbirds — by daytime, they are so exhausted having defended their area all night by singing that when the real daytime arrives, they cannot defend themselves, their young, or find a food or mate and perish.

What You Can Do to Stop This Tragedy

The good news is that this really is within our control and in the Journal of Applied Ecology; scientists have identified a list of actions we can take to stop light pollution.

  • Make the Change to LED Lights

One of the most significant changes we can make is switching to LED lights. LED lights are a more eco-friendly and brighter light option, which could decrease the number of overall lights necessary.

  • Shield Lights by Installing Lamp Fixtures

Another important and simple change we can make is shield our lights by fitting lamp fixtures which redirect the brightness of the bulb downward. Most of our outdoor lights are unshielded which leave the light open to shine into the night sky. This is a cheap but effective option!

  • Turn off Lights When Unneeded

Be more vigilant about shutting down unneeded lights. If you are concerned about safety, opt for wavelengths (not yellow) which do not affect wildlife or insects.

  • Share Knowledge Within Your Community and on Social Media

Lastly, please share this information with your contacts and community — while individual effort does make a huge difference, imagine the lives that could be saved and the ecosystems restored if everyone in your community joined in?

The wonderful thing about this is that controlling and limiting light pollution is within your grasp. As tragic the effects are of human life on animal welfare, we can make a change and we can reverse it! Go forth and make the change!

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Emily is a freelance conservation journalist who feels passionately about protecting endangered species and preserving the wilderness landscapes.

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