By Emily Brown, Muskoka Conservancy
Since the dawn of life on Earth over 3 billion years ago, the rhythm of day and night has encoded the DNA of life on this planet. As humans gained the ability to create their own light, they chased away the insecurity of darkness even outcompeting the moon as the brightest light at night. While people have taken comfort in the perceived safety of night lights, it has come with a cost to us and to the other species who share the planet.
Light energy plays a key role in ecological function for many species, from the predator-prey relationship to breeding and migration. Light pollution has a drastic effect on migratory birds, for example, affecting their flight path, causing collisions with buildings, or exhaustion from disorientation during flight. “At night, when most birds migrate, lit-up buildings disorient and attract them, luring them not just off their migratory paths, but straight into collisions. These fatalities account for 2 to 9 percent of all birds in North America in any given year,” says Priyanka Runwal in her 2020 article for Audubon.
The problem goes beyond biological function, as some metropolitan areas can cause light pollution up as far as 150 kilometers away. This extraneous light can obscure the moon and brightest stars from the sky, deadening one of the most spectacular views we once took for granted—The Milky Way. Driven by astronomers, the protection of the night sky through Dark Sky Reserves has become an unfortunate necessity.
Muskoka Conservancy has played a direct role in protecting the night sky. As a director, the late Peter Goering, with the help of Jan McDonnell and Mike Silver, worked together to achieve the designation of the Torrance Barrens Conservation Reserve as a “dark sky preserve.” This was established in 1999 and was the first dark sky reserve in Canada. Muskoka Conservancy’s Musquash Nature Reserve is in the heart of Torrance Barrens, supporting the full complement of wildlife in Muskoka and fortunately for the inhabitants, maintains the darkness of night without artificial light.
What else can we do? Birds migrate during Spring and Fall, we recognize these seasons as times of change, and changing some of our lighting habits can lower the mortality rate of birds on their migration.
1) Turning off outdoor lighting between 12am and 6am
2) Closing blinds and turning off lights when leaving a room
3) Installing shielded, downward directed fixtures and/or motion sensors
4) Urge building managers and other homeowners to do the same
Light pollution is the easiest pollution to reverse and can be achieved at home. These small changes not only help wildlife, but your neighbour might appreciate a break from your porch light as well.
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