Light pollution talk right on target

POSTED: 10/15/13 11:41 AM

SABA / By Suzanne Nielsen —Astronomer Stephan Martin’s Thursday night talk on light pollution was more prophetic that he realized. His lecture at the Sea and Learn conference on the dangers of artificial lightening was only hours before neighboring St. Maarten Pride saved 100 turtle hatchlings that were headed to certain death at Great Bay Beach. The bright light had driven them in the wrong direction: they should have headed out to sea.

“The problem of light pollution is less recognized than all the other pollutions, but is comparable to them in its impact,” said Martin. He emphasized that the solution to its effect on the ecosystem is among the easiest to reduce  All citizens can participate by seeing to it that lights are well directed away from the sky, not unnecessarily bright for the task, and turned off when not needed.

Martin reminded his audience gathered at Shearwater Resort that all living beings follow the sun and the stars. When artificial lighting interferes, birds are thrown off the migratory trajectories, nocturnal creatures are interrupted in their mating patterns, plants’ normal life cycle will be disrupted, etc. Mortality rates are high: approximately, 500 million birds are killed yearlyflying into the lights of tall buildings in the US.

Martin said that science has also proved that humans are disturbed in hormonal balance, to name only one health problem, when they use night lights, watch TV or other electronic devices at night, and so forth.In addition, the night sky is one of the joys of nature and is fast disappearing from view because of the proliferation of artificial lighting. Martin showed an impressive satellite picture of the world at night. The United Sates shoreline and its major cities were clearly lit up deep into the interior, as was Europe. The map’s only dark spots were the middle of Africa, Siberia, South America, and North Canada.

Some American National Parks are offering a special night show by simply shutting off all artificial lights to attract crowds of amateur astronomers and star gazers who come prepared with binoculars and star maps. On Saturday night, Martin did the same and took a crowd of star gazers to a quiet-and dark-corner of Saba near The Ladder for a bit of night viewing of several constellations, the Milky Way, and the moon: Saturday was in fact the “International Night of the Moon,” which is celebrated worldwide to bring attention to the spectacular display put on by Mother Nature every evening, for free!

Sea and Learn lectures and field trips continue through the month of October. Events are free and open to the general public. For the full schedule, consult “seaandlearn.org.”

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