OPINION: Care needed over lighting quality as it affects night life

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Ines Stager

Recent lightning and immediate thunder made for a spectacular display and audio during an entire dark night.

As I was watching the light and thunder show, I kept wondering how animals react to these electrical storms?

Plants and animals have relied for billions of years on the predictable rhythm of day and night for their life-sustaining behaviour, sleep, reproduction, nourishment as well as protection from predators.

Artificial lighting at night is the equivalent of longer daylight, which drastically disrupts the physiology, behaviour and reproduction of fauna and flora.

A common observation is how artificial light attracts moths and other invertebrates at night.

Increasingly, areas are being lit up in our environment, light pollution is a serious issue that affects all living things. Technology provides us with energy-efficient LED (light-emitting diode) lights which are replacing traditional, hungry

To use less resources, in this case electricity, is a positive, however, we have to be mindful that there are substantial differences between soft, yellow light, which is a preferable light source, and its effects on living things are much reduced compared to blue-wavelength component lights.

The latter are proposed to be used for lighting along our State Highways, and potentially to illuminate district roads as well.

Some years ago now, a presentation to Timaru District Council, on the effects of night lighting on bats and other wildlife, resulted in minimising the effects on wildlife by using amber downlights in parts of Geraldine.

Some of these lights have now been replaced with what appear to be blue lights.

According to scientists, blue light interrupts the rhythm of the body clock of all living things.

Migratory and hunting birds navigate by moon and starlight.

The birds may go off course and end up in artificially lit urban landscapes.

A common occurrence is birds colliding with needlessly illuminated buildings.

Visitors to Aotearoa often comment how clear our night skies are, especially in the countryside and particularly in remote areas with little artificial light.

Nowadays, cloudy skies near towns or cities are much brighter than they were a couple of centuries ago.

All this has an enormous influence on the nocturnal ecology.

While some illumination is justified to light pavements where people walk, skateboard or cycle, and to keep road corridors safe, there is no need to light up the entire atmosphere.

The use of soft yellow LED lights instead of blue lights is a step in the right direction and will ensure adverse effects on our natural environment are reduced.

At the recent Starlight Conference in Tekapo, attention was drawn to the impact of blue light on human health.

Humans have it in their hands to reduce and/or prevent adverse effects on all living things.

  • Ines Stager is a landscape architect based in Geraldine, a board member of the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society and a committee member of the local branch.