Night Skies Are Essential Habitat Too!
Dark skies are often overlooked as important parts of habitat….but lighting instantly effects all species. Humans sleep best without blue/white or any glaring lights – and so do animals!
Having lights on at night destroys the sleeping areas for many animals, such as Hummingbirds and songbirds; but also confuses and changes the natural order of the world.
The human eye has very few receptors for blue light. Blue light is only seen in the sky during the day and at dusk and dawn. LED lights are in the white/blue spectrum. Having LED lights on at night tend to confuse both animals and our own human bodies into thinking/feeling that it is daytime or dusk/dawn. Therefore, they interrupt our sleep and processes and those of all animals too. They tell plants to grow affecting plants and perpetuating alga growth when placed near lakes. And they attract mosquitoes and other predators too that congregate and feed at dusk. LED and white lights can also be mistaken for starts and will confuse birds, bats and other animals that navigate by the stars. Finally, LED and white lights do not necessarily deter theft because the eye cannot adjust as quickly from bright white to dark and therefore the dark is darker, making the shadows impenetrable to you. There are easy fixes however: Orange and red lights help the eye see greater distances in the dark and do not confuse any animal, plant and do not attract any bugs. Capping lights to ensure that only areas needed are lit, and placing sensors or timers on lights too ensures that lights are on only when needed. READ MORE from Robert Dick of the Royal Astronomical Society about the effects of night lighting on human health and the environment and guidelines to follow: guidelines for outdoor lighting
IN summary, lighting at night can destroy habitat in an instant:
- Lighting has the immediate effect of removing habitat for many species from large mammals to tiny pollinators such as hummingbirds by literally removing sleep areas;
- It harms insects by confusing and distracting them- insects that we love such as fireflies and Luna moths- so that they either circle until they tire and die or for fireflies, it removes the signalling power to find mates
- It changes the metabolic process of plants and animals from trees, to frogs and salamanders…and even humans! And for humans, sleeping with lights on alter our hormone functions and metabolic processes and is linked to increase in diabetes and even breast cancer rates.
- It changers predator prey relationships. If you are afraid of predators, you may have just invited them to your doorstep, as many predators hunt during dusk and dawn, and the glow around the lighting mimics these conditions…perfect for them.
- Finally, it changes the course of both bird and turtle migration, confusing the animals that mistake the lights for other markers such as the moon over water or even stars.
The Land Between is the last place in southern Ontario that you can see the Milky Way. It is also home to the first Night Sky Preserve in Canada at Torrence Barrens and to the first night sky bylaws in Gravenhurst…and others are following suit because they recognize that dark skies can also be a boon for tourism and economic development (see Frontenac Dark Sky Preserve).
Most of our municipalities have bylaws that deal with lighting, light trespass, and even specifically designed to preserve the night sky, and many lake associations and communities are now demanding more controls and protection of night skies.
What you can do:
- Point lights downwards and cap them so that they only light necessary areas
- Avoid bright white lights or LED white lights; these are actually blinding at night for both animals and humans because they are so extreme on the spectrum that the eye cannot adjust fast enough
- Cover lights with orange or red films or use coloured bulbs lights. These colours do not harm animals or change metabolic processes as these colours are close to the right end of the spectrum; and our eyes see better with these colours at night (fog lights!)
- Use reduced wattage bulbs; and/or use light sensors for security lights or traffic areas
- Learn about your local municipal bylaws. Here are some good bylaw examples, thanks to Highlands East. Each municipality has a dedicated bylaw enforcement officer.
To find out more about stewarding the night sky and night glow effects, visit The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada
Or download Robert Dick’s of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s Guidelines for Outdoor Lighting