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Light Pollution: How It Makes Animals Feel, What to Do

Oct 12, 2015 06:05 PM EDT
Sea turtle
Sea turtles are one of many types of animals affected and thrown off their natural patterns by light pollution.
(Photo : Flickr: Ian Kennedy)

In the essay "The Health Effects of a World without Darkness," first published in the publication Aeon and later included in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2015 (Mariner, 2015), writer Rebecca Boyle talks about being an astronomy specialist who, like many of us in industrialized countries, lives mostly without seeing a full display of stars in the night sky.

In the essay, Boyle references several studies about the effects of near-constant light in modern society on animals' migratory patterns, human sleep patterns and possibly humans' depression, cancer, and weight gain.

She notes that, as Neil deGrasse Tyson has said, "We are all descended from astronomers." In other words, as Boyle notes in the essay, the starry sky in the past was the one thing to which everyone had access, no matter what was their status in society.

Some of the ways animals are affected by light pollution include, as the essay points out:

  • migrating birds, trying to navigate by the moon and stars, fly into brightly shining buildings and lighthouses and end up stunned or injured
  • sea turtles also follow the moon and are confused by bright light shining from highways and launch pads onto beaches
  • fruit bats choose different foraging routes in order to avoid even small amounts of light, according to a 2009 University of Bristol study.
  • pelagic ocean animals, living between the surface and the sea floor, are lured to the surface by bright boats and other lights, and this interferes with their navigation, hunting and mating habits

As Boyle's essay notes, there are things we can do to decrease the amount of light leaking into the atmosphere. Simply making streetlamps downward-facing helps, for instance. If you'd like other tips, go here.

This topic was also addressed in a 2009 piece in Environmental Health Perspectives by Ron Chepesiuk.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales

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