New Guidelines Proposed to Address Light Pollution

Bonn, 11 February 2020 - The magical nocturnal spectacle of dancing fireflies could become a rare sight in the future.  Light pollution is being cited as a leading threat to fireflies and other insects. In addition, declines in insect populations directly affect animals that feed on them.

And, by brightening the night sky, artificial light impacts other species, too.  Turtles, seabirds and shorebirds, as well as ecosystems at large are under threat. Light pollution can disrupt critical behaviour in wildlife, stall the recovery of threatened species and interfere with their ability to undertake long-distance migrations integral to their life cycle. This can reduce breeding success and their chances of survival.

With artificial light increasing by around two per cent per year globally, light pollution has become a pertinent issue. At CMS COP13, delegates will consider the topic for the first time following draft resolutions submitted independently by the European Union and Australia. The draft submitted by the EU addresses the negative effects of artificial light on all migratory species, while the draft from Australia focuses on effects on marine and coastal species and proposes the adoption of its National Light Pollution Guidelines for Wildlife already in use in Australia.

The resolutions seek to raise awareness of the potential impacts of artificial light while the proposed guidelines provide a framework for assessing and managing the impact of artificial light on susceptible wildlife, including migratory species. For example, they consider wildlife-friendly lighting design and the management of light sources near protected wildlife.

The guidelines recognize the potential of conflicting requirements for wildlife conservation and human safety and the need for a balance between both.

Understanding how animals perceive light is important when considering guidelines to manage artificial light. It can disorientate adult and hatchling sea turtles, so they are unable to find the ocean. Birds are also known to become disorientated from lights, resulting in higher bird mortality due to collisions with artificial structures such as buildings. Migratory shorebirds may be exposed to increased predation where lighting makes them visible. They may also abandon preferable roosting sites to avoid lights.

To prevent harm to migratory species, the guidelines propose a multi-step approach. If artificial light is visible outside, best practice light design should be applied not to impact nearby habitats of threatened species. An environmental impact report would consider negative effects before artificial light sources are installed.

Natural darkness is important for conservation and should be protected by good quality lighting design and management. Limiting the amount of time and using low intensity lighting with a dimmable function is recommended. In addition, if kept close to the ground, light with reduced or filtered ultra-violet wavelengths is less likely to disturb wildlife.

If an important wildlife habitat is located within 20 km of a project requiring artificial light, impacts assessments will help continuously improve light management.  Monitoring and auditing after the construction will mitigate the risks.

The agenda item is scheduled for 19 February.


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Last updated on 11 February 2020