Lost in the Light: Taking Action to Address Light Pollution

By Britt Oldenburg, Bay of Islands Association

One of the key attractions of cottage life is being immersed in the beauty of nature: the lake, the trees, the loons, and a dark, star-filled sky. This dark and starry sky is increasingly threatened by light pollution caused by artificial lighting.

Ironically, lighting designed to save energy has only increased light pollution. According to an article by Robert Dick in a 2021 Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations (FOCA) newsletter, energy-saving lighting is increasing the amount of artificial lighting at night by 2.2 per cent each year. It has become easy and inexpensive to light up docks and pathways with solar lights that stay on all night.

While light pollution interferes with our aesthetic enjoyment of the dark night sky, it also causes harm to nature. Animals, birds, and insects have evolved to take their cues from a world where the days are bright with sunshine and the nights are dark or gently illuminated by the stars and the moon.

For animals that use the stars to navigate for migration, the night skies and artificial lighting interferes with their ability to migrate. Birds can mistake artificial lights for their navigational stars, leaving them exhausted, dehydrated, and off course, and can sometimes lead to their death.

Nocturnal animals need the dark to protect themselves from predators. They use the protection of the dark to find food, eat, and mate. Artificial lighting reduces the time they have to spend on these essential life activities.

Even humans need darkness at night to produce melatonin, a hormone that helps us achieve the deep sleep we need to stay healthy. Artificial lighting affects our hormone levels and the structures by which we grow.

The good news is that light pollution is one of the easiest forms of pollution to address, and there are things we can do to help reduce its impact. As Nicholas St. Fleur wrote in a 2016 article for the New York Times, “light pollution is a problem researchers say could disappear with the flick of a switch.”

Angel Lillard of the McGregor Bay Association took this to heart this summer, after years of increasing light pollution from the Lafarge cement plant located on the eastern shoreline of McGregor Bay. Together with McGregor Bay Association President John Woodrooffe, they brought the issue forward to Lafarge, who quickly agreed to adopt a dark-sky policy that will see the lights turned off between 9:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. Angel is now working to make the local municipality’s (the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands [NEMI]) dark-sky regulations more accessible so that cottagers can easily understand how to make their lighting comply with the by-law.

There are several initiatives in the Georgian Bay area aimed at curbing light pollution:

The Lafarge cement plant located in the southeast corner of McGregor Bay was a significant source of light pollution until concerned cottager Angel Lillard took action.
Photo: Angel Lillard

How You Can Reduce Light Pollution

Even if you don’t have an industrial source of light pollution in your area, we all have a role to play in reducing light pollution. This simply involves turning off lights that are not required, directing light rays to the ground, and blocking light from travelling upwards and into the sky. The International Dark-Sky Association recommends the following principles for lighting:

Example of a lighting fixture that shields light from scattering upwards.

For more information on what you can do to make your outdoor lighting dark-sky friendly, check out the International Dark Sky Association here: darksky.org/our-work/lighting/lighting-for-citizens/residentialbusiness-lighting

The Bay of Island Community Association held breakout sessions at this year’s Annual General Meeting to capture key issues for members. Light Pollution was one of the top issues that members wanted BICA to address.  Members can start to address the issue by simply turning off their lights at night.