Why Dark Skies Need to be Preserved

Night Sky in Arizona at Coconino National Forest

The brilliance of the Milky Way isn’t the only reason to protect dark skies. So what else is at stake?

Every time I’m out in the darkness of a wilderness area, I look up at the starry sky and think to myself, wow, we don’t see stars like this in the city.  There’s an awe in rediscovering the night sky, and it’s one of the many reasons I go backpacking and camping. I keep the rainfly off my tent, lay back, and observe. Watching stars in the night sky has become a treat, an escape from the city noise and lights.

But more and more, even the wilderness is invaded by light. Across the globe artificial light at night is increasing — and it’s getting brighter. The disappearance of dark skies has impacts beyond stargazing. Here are a few reasons it’s important that we protect our dark skies.

Keep wildlife safe.

Sea Turtle Hatchling Headed Toward Ocean

Sea turtles are one of the primary species threatened by light pollution. When baby sea turtles hatch on the beach, their first task is to embark on a dangerous trek to the ocean. They must avoid natural predators like birds and foxes to survive. Their instincts kick in and they sprint toward the bright horizon over the ocean. But artificial light interferes with their navigation and can lead them toward the glow of civilization.

Artificial lights can also disorient birds who migrate at night, causing them to improperly time their journey or veer off track. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission compiled a page dedicated to groups of animals affected by artificial lighting, including insects, birds, amphibians, mammals, and reptiles.

Reduce energy usage.

Reducing light pollution comes with a welcome benefit of decreasing energy consumption. According to the International Dark-Sky Association, about 30% of all outdoor lighting in the U.S. is wasted. Improvements to lighting design, technologies, and efficiency can conserve energy (and money). It all goes a long way toward saving the planet.

And yes, stargazing.

Tent Under the Stars at Badlands

Dark skies allow for better views of stars! Use the Dark Site Finder to discover a good place to avoid light pollution and experience the vastness of the universe. Many national parks host their own local night sky programs and festivals throughout the summer, so be sure to plan ahead.

What You Can Do

You can be an advocate to reduce light pollution or celebrate the starry night sky:

  1. Audit the use of lighting around your work and home. Small adjustments can go a long way towards reducing light pollution and energy consumption. Replace old lighting with dark sky friendly products.
     
  2. Gather data for scientific research. Citizen science efforts like Dark Sky Meter App and Globe at Night are helping to measure and better understand the impacts of light pollution, and they need your data!
     
  3. Advocate for an outdoor lighting ordinance in your community. Work locally to develop, pass, and enforce an ordinance to address light at night. The International Dark-Sky Association has resources to guide you through each step.
     
  4. Stargaze. Participate in night sky programs at national parks or get outdoors to public lands that offer a view of the starry skies. Find a place to go camping under the stars. You might lead astronomy programs one day!
     
  5. Join an SCA crew or internship. You never know where an SCA program will take you! This last photo was from one of the 2016 SCA Mount Rainier conservation crews. Find a position that’s right for you.

View of the Starry Night Sky from SCA Mount Rainier Crew