As I passed the expensive resorts in Holetown, Barbados, my friend exclaimed that they saw a turtle. Not a full-grown one, but a baby. I looked towards the sandy beach, where one would reasonably expect to see a turtle meant for the sea. But instead, my friend moved towards the resorts. The tiny turtle was crawling along the concrete, towards the bright light shining on the empty patio. Luckily, we were able to redirect the animal back out to sea. However, many are not this lucky. Baby sea turtles are born with the innate ability to head towards the brightest light they see. This is meant to lead them to the sea, as the horizon is usually the brightest light. However, when the coast is developed and bright lights are installed for vacationers, they can get confused and travel inland, rather than out to sea.
How does this Hurt the Turtles?
When turtles head inland, they have a much lower chance of ever making it back to the sea. They can die from dehydration, drown in tourist swimming pools, get eaten by predators, be run over by cars, and many more dangers that their marine bodies are not designed to handle. Mother turtles often choose to nest on darker beaches to avoid this problem, but this is not always the case. There may be no beaches which are dark enough, or the problem could be that the mothers simply aren’t adapted to the anthropogenic light. Even when mothers do avoid lit beaches in favour of darker ones, this is essentially a loss of habitat, but an invisible one to surveyors.
Effects on other Species
Similar problems occur with other species. Frogs and moths can be attracted to certain areas which disturbs the balance of the ecosystem. Nocturnal animals have their circadian rhythm disturbed and be awake at the wrong times and can even forgo their mating rituals. Predator-prey relationships can be disturbed due to the reduction in effective hiding places for the hunted. Bird migrations are interfered with. All of this is of course wrong because of its impact on the animals. It makes us sad to hear and results in more deaths of animals. But why does it matter to people?
A Human-Centric View on the Impacts of Light Pollution
All of these effects on fauna are damaging to a species’ ability to survive and thrive in certain areas. This weakens the ecosystem by removing these species’ key contributions as well as their place in the food chain. A weaker ecosystem in one area is not as isolated as it seems. Everywhere in the biosphere is connected, with migratory animals, physical proximity, and natural nutrient and toxin movement processes being the liaison between different areas. When one beach suffers from a reduced turtle population, the whole world suffers. This is particularly important to people because they rely on the natural world for literally every single action they take. The air they breathe, the products they consume, the climate they are subjected to, and the resources they extract are all directly connected to the planet’s ecosystems. Damage to fauna cannot be seen as only impactful to the animal, but also someone on the other side of the world, your friends, and even yourself. Leaving your outside light on because it is easier than turning it off every night may seem like it benefits you while hurting wildlife, but in reality, it hurts the animals and yourself. While most people know this in an intellectual sense, they do not apply it to all of their daily decisions. It is much easier to consider this interconnectedness when the issue at hand is large-scale, but people forget about it when it comes to their own lives. But, whether it is one turtle from a thousand people or a thousand turtles from one person, the impact is the same.
What can be Done?
So what can people do to stop fauna from being affected by light pollution? The first and most obvious answer is for individuals and corporations to turn off lights when they are not needed. In terms of protecting turtles, this is especially easy when you can simply turn on lights farther away from the beach if needed rather than turning them all on. Studies show that 30% of all lighting in the US is wasted, so being diligent with which lights you keep on is an easy fix. Furthermore, many worry about increased violence in cities when fewer lights are kept on. But, evaluating which lights are protecting people and which ones are shining in areas where no people will be can help mitigate this problem. Add to that the fact that so much energy is wasted, and safety will not decrease by decreasing light pollution. Another way to fight light pollution is to implement a policy enforcing more efficient use of lighting. This can be through requiring proper lighting shielding, mandating timers be placed on outdoor lighting, and providing a certification process for lighting fixtures.
DarkSky International. “Light Pollution Harms Wildlife and Ecosystems.” Darksky.org, 3 Sept. 2014, darksky.org/resources/what-is-light-pollution/effects/wildlife-ecosystems/.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “Artificial Lighting and Sea Turtle Hatchling Behavior.” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, myfwc.com/research/wildlife/sea-turtles/threats/artificial-lighting. Accessed 11 Sept. 2023.
—. “Sea Turtle FAQ.” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 2019, myfwc.com/research/wildlife/sea-turtles/florida/faq/.
Malhi, Yadvinder, et al. “Climate Change and Ecosystems: Threats, Opportunities and Solutions.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol. 375, no. 1794, Jan. 2020, p. 20190104, https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2019.0104. Royal Society Publishing.
Polakovic, Gary. “USC Scientist’s Database Can Help Reduce Effects of LED Light on Animals.” USC News, 12 June 2018, news.usc.edu/144389/usc-scientist-database-reduce-effects-of-led-light-on-animals/.
Schultz, Jennifer. “States Shut out Light Pollution.” Www.ncsl.org, 25 Mar. 2022, www.ncsl.org/environment-and-natural-resources/states-shut-out-light-pollution.
Sea Turtle Conservancy. “Sea Turtle Conservancy Media Resources: Press Release Archive.” Conserveturtles.org, 2021, conserveturtles.org/loggerhead-sea-turtle-nesting-in-steep-decline/.
The Threat of Light Pollution on Fauna – and Why it Matters
- The Threat of Light Pollution on Fauna – and Why it Matters - September 15, 2023
- Spreading Like Wildfire - June 16, 2023
- Will the Earth Reach a Tipping Point of Environmental Destruction? - May 26, 2023