Light Pollution: The Silent Sea Turtle Killer
Updated: Apr 27
Most of the world is well aware of the catastrophic effects of plastic pollution on our environment, specifically our oceans and marine wildlife. Sea turtles are among the top marine species most critically impacted by plastic waste, with the debris killing thousands and injuring many more.
Most of the world is well aware of the catastrophic effects of plastic pollution on our environment, specifically our oceans and marine wildlife. Sea turtles are among the top marine species most critically impacted by plastic waste, with the debris killing thousands and injuring many more. In the effort to reduce and eventually eliminate single-use plastics such as straws and grocery bags, many groups have chosen to highlight the damages it causes to wildlife, and before long sea turtles became the marking symbol for anti-plastic groups and movements.
But while plastics are one of their greatest dangers in the ocean, sea turtles face an even darker threat before ever entering the water.
The Problem with Light Pollution
Light pollution troubles sea turtles before they have even hatched. In theory, when the females are ready to nest, they crawl onto a dark and quiet beach, lay and bury their eggs, and return to the ocean. With the ever-increasing levels of light pollution, more and more nesting turtles perform numerous false crawls, eventually returning to the water and laying their eggs in more treacherous settings or even in the ocean. Simply surviving through the hatching stage in these settings would be a feat.
If the sea turtles are successful in nesting on the beach, the baby sea turtles will begin to hatch weeks later. Waiting until night when the sand has cooled and predators are minimal, the hatchlings emerge from their nests and begin to make their way back to the ocean, using the reflection from the moon and the stars onto the water to guide them.
However, with thousands of bright city lights cluttering beach horizons, the once-simple job of a sea turtle hatchling has become a difficult journey. Instead of following the moon to the water’s edge, , sea turtles are now becoming misguided by aiming toward nearby broad-spectrum artificial light sources. Instead of reaching the safety of the ocean, they are wandering farther inland towards brightly lit towers and streetlights until they reach the first water source they find, such as a pool, stream, or river. Sadly, many won’t make it that far, with countless baby sea turtles getting run over by vehicles, eaten by other wildlife, or dying from dehydration. According to the International Dark Sky Association’s article “Sea Turtle Conservation”, millions of baby sea turtles die every year before ever setting a flipper into the ocean.
What We are Doing to Help Solve the Problem
As part of a project experiment with local partners supported by Pecan Lighting in Brisbane, Australia, LED Roadway Lighting Ltd. and Liveable Cities designed LED lighting with a limited wavelength to avoid interfering with nesting sea turtles and provided the lighting equipment to the university for testing and research.
The results were incredibly positive. Using longer wavelength and more reddish artificial lighting provided the required site lighting, but also allowed the turtles to properly orient themselves with the night sky. These longer wavelength LEDs enabled the sea turtle hatchlings to successfully make their way towards the ocean instead of coming further inland.
Addressing the problem of light pollution and sea turtles does not mean turning off all lights. Traditionally, cities have combatted light pollution by using warm-colored lights, opting for smaller light fixtures, and using shields on lamps to keep light focused downwards. While nature benefits from these changes, smart sensing technology allows for substantial improvements that will revolutionize our ability to protect and restore wildlife and the environment. The ability to remotely control our lighting, and to optimize the style of lighting to match the local environmental needs will mean a more environmentally responsible public lighting infrastructure.
How Smart Sensing Technology Allows Us to Combat Light Pollution
Monitoring our surroundings is the first step towards protecting our environment, and smart technology allows cities to optimally and most efficiently collect data to provide a better understanding of current processes and analyze which activities have negative impacts on the planet and society. Understanding these impacts aids cities and municipalities in responding most effectively to the needs of their communities and the surrounding environment.
Implementing innovative technology, such as controlled lighting with advancements like radar and micro-sensing, is a key step in conducting better light and energy management and mitigating potential natural, human, and environmental health impacts.
While turning off every city light at night would be practically impossible and simply unfeasible, adopting advanced technology such as dynamic lighting, which keeps lighting at minimal levels when not needed, provides cities with various possibilities for creating a positive impact on the nighttime environment.
Protecting nature and the environment around us doesn’t have to be complicated. With improved technological advances, there are fewer hurdles preventing cities from being part of the change. Let’s not wait until sea turtles and hundreds of other animal species are extinct to deal with the problems before us. We can make meaningful, impactful changes now.