Monday Reads: The Lights Out Edition

Wildlife do not appreciate our bright lights

This page was published 14 years ago. Find the latest on Earthjustice’s work.

For many of us, the lights never truly go out. (Speaking literally, of course. Metaphorically? Now that’s a topic for another post.)

Long after we’ve switched off our lights and settled down to sleep, the soft glow of street lamps continues to spill out into the night. Traffic lights tirelessly cycle red, green, yellow, while electronic billboards advertise to the heavens. Even in our homes, that microwave clock keeps shining, holding total darkness at bay.

Light pollution may often be relegated to a lower tier of concern than, say, air or water pollution. After all, a little light drowning out the stars might be hard to match up against pea soup smog, or an oil-slicked waterway.

Although it may seem to simply be an astronomer’s annoyance, our 24-hour, man-made lightshow has created larger problems. Last week, Earthjustice put one brightly lit luxury Hawaiian resort on notice: follow the law, or we’ll see you in court.

 In this case, the resort—with its shining pool lights and more—is the single greatest cause of deaths and injuries from artificial lights among endangered Newell’s shearwater seabirds.

As with sea turtles who mistakenly head inland towards brightly lit homes rather than out towards the not-as brightly lit ocean horizon, the birds are attracted to the artificial beacons. Trapped in the glare, they circle repeatedly until falling to the ground from exhaustion or striking the resort’s buildings.

Maka’ala Kaaumoana of the Kaua’i-based Hui Ho’omalu i Ka ‘Āina gave this account:

I asked a resort employee why nothing was being done for the birds and was told that, to improve the guest experience, they were under orders to keep the lights on and the shades up. It’s outrageous that, even when they know the community is watching, the resort so blatantly ignores its kuleana (duty) to stop killing our native seabirds.

More on the Newell’s shearwaters can be found at Earthjustice’s website.

Light pollution isn’t affecting just seabirds and sea turtles. Insects, songbirds and more are all experiencing negative consequences.

As our towns and cities grow, their shine almost seeks to swallow the starry night—and too much of our wildlife. Which does your sky look more like tonight? Top photo, or bottom?

The southern sky, featuring Sagittarius and Scorpius. Top photo: Leamington, UT, pop. 217. Bottom photo: Orem, UT, in a metropolitan area of ~400,000. Photo: / CC BY 2.0.

More Reads:

Shirley undertakes sous chef duties on Earthjustice’s website, serving up interactive online features for our advocacy campaign and litigation work.

Established in 1988, Earthjustice's Mid-Pacific Office, located in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, works on a broad range of environmental and community health issues, including to ensure water is a public trust and to achieve a cleaner energy future.