Articles

The Dangers of a bright night

Ana V. González Rivera / 17 years / Puerto Rico

 The night sky is turning black; the stars that used rule the sky are fleeing. Light pollution is taking over our skies and the lives of living things; this affects much more than the visibility of the stars, it affects people in Puerto Rico and all over the world. This proves difficult to reduce since everywhere we look there is artificial lighting, it is supposed to be used for our safety, but in certain cases it ends up doing more harm than good. 

Light pollution consists of illuminating the night sky by artificial lighting and white lighting like billboards, street lamps, homes and office buildings. The light produced by these tends to point upwards to the sky instead of pointing to the ground where it is really needed. World Health Organization estates that Light Pollution affects the circadian cycle also known as the natural sleep cycle and it damages the retina in our eyes. It also may increase risks for obesity, depression, sleep disorders, diabetes, breast cancer and more. 

Bioluminescent bays and the dangers it’s facing 

Around the world there are beautiful ecosystems known as the bioluminescent bays, these contain an organisms called dinoflagellates, when agitated these organisms produce energy in the form of light. There are three of these beautiful ecosystems in Puerto Rico, La Parguera in Lajas, Laguna Grande in Fajardo and Bahía Mosquito in Vieques island, which is the brightest one in the world according to the Guinness World Record Book (2006). The bay that suffers the most due to light pollution in the surrounding urban area is Laguna Grande in Fajardo. Interviewing Elizabeth Padilla, Superintendent of Demonstrations in Las Cabezas de San Juan Natural Reserve, we learned that because of light pollution and its negative effects on the environment a program called Puerto Rico Brilla Naturalmente was formed, “the topic of light pollution came about in the organization (Para La Naturalez) in 2005 due to a housing project in the sector of Las Croabas in Fajardo, which is adjacent to Las Cabezas de San Juan. We saw that this project was going to impact the bioluminescence in La Laguna Grande in terms of artificial light. In 2006 we obtained funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation which allowed us to establish a strategic plan to preserve the reserve in terms of light management, and encouraged us to keep working on the topic of light pollution,” said Elizabeth Padilla . 


Before and after of the Los Croabas community (photo obtained from Para La Naturaleza, these were taken between 2008-2014) 

Due to this initiative, light pollution was reduced 60 percent in the areas around the bioluminescent bay. “One of the strategies that were established, was an advisory board that helped us determine the different sources of light pollution in that area, educational 

environmental campaigns to the people that visited the reserve, inclusivity to the community of Las Croabas to participate in the strategies of modification (…) all of this has helped us reduce 60 percent of the light pollution in that area,” said Elizabeth Padilla. She stated that they also changed the lamp posts from regular lighting fixtures to full cutoff lighting which helps with unnecessary splendor; it also illuminates the street without pointing to the sky. 

Sea turtles and why they can’t find their way home 

Turtles are also impacted negatively by light pollution, because when they are born the light of the Moon reflected on the ocean guides them towards it, but the artificial lighting draws hatchlings towards land where they die because they get run over, die of dehydration or many other dangers. Hilda Benítez is the founder of the turtle conservation group called 7 Quillas which is in charge of the protection of the Tinglar, also known as the Leatherback Turtle, in the beaches of Condado and Ocean Park in Puerto Rico. They have collaborated with nearby buildings in the Condado area to change their lighting fixtures from white light to amber. “There are no high levels of hatchlings deaths because our volunteers and the rest of volunteer’s groups around the island are always looking out for all the turtles,” said Hilda Benítez. She also stated the importance of these turtles, “People always ask why the Tinglar is so important? They eat toxic jellyfish of all of the seas, imagine this planet and all of it seas full of toxic jellyfish and no Tinglares, that equilibrium is fully impacted, there will be no fish and no sea life, and eventually we humans will also be impacted.” 

Map of light pollution in the Caribbean (photo obtained from Sociedad Atronómica del Caribe) 

According to the Department of Energy of the United States, Puerto Rico is the place where the most electric energy is spent by square kilometer. In 2007 more than 3.700 million dollars were spent on electricity, and 925 million dollars were spent on public illumination. As mentioned before, this has many solutions like the use of correct lighting, this consist of lighting that is directed towards the floor and the sides instead of upwards, the lighting is also uniform and the glare is reduced, and lastly but not least these lightings are cheaper and produces less carbon emissions. 


The different types of lighting (photo obtained from Blanco County Friends of the Night Sky) 

In the end both, Hilda Benítez and Elizabeth Padilla, agreed that in order to solve this problem the population of the island of Puerto Rico need to be educated on how light pollution affects us and our surroundings. If we want to be able to keep seeing the beauty of the night sky or the bioluminescent bays, if we want to see our animals and ecosystems to persevere we will need to work together to reduce the light pollution. 

References:

Para La Naturaleza. (n.d.) Puerto Rico Brilla [Brochure]. Fundación MAPFRE. Retrieved from https://www.paralanaturaleza.org/dl/Brochure-Contaminacion-Luminica-2016.pdf

Puerto Rico Brilla Naturalmente: Una luz en la NASA. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.paralanaturaleza.org/puerto-rico-brilla-naturalmente-una-luz-en-la-nasa/ 

Chepesiuk R. (2009). Missing The Dark: health effects of light pollution. Environmental health perspectives, 117(1), 

A20-A27. Doi:10.1289/ehp.117-a20 as in: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2627884/ 

Human Health. (2016, November 17). Retrieved from https://www.darksky.org/light-pollution/human-health/ 

Brightest bioluminescent bay. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/brightest-bioluminescent-bay 

How to Prevent Light Pollution. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.blancocountynightsky.org/guideliness.php 

Information About Sea Turtles: Threats from Artificial Lighting – Sea Turtle Conservancy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://conserveturtles.org/information-sea-turtles-threats-artificial-lighting/ 

¿Qué es la contaminación lumínica? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.astrocantabria.org/?q=cieloscuro_contaminacion 

Geographic, N. (2019, January 25). Retrieved April 01, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_A78zDBwYE 

Contaminacion Luminica. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.sociedadastronomia.com/ContaminacionLuminica.html 

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