Migratory birds are veering off course. Newborn sea turtles are crawling inland rather than moving towards the sea. Nocturnal insects are flocking to the cities.
Why all the confusion in the animal kingdom? Artificial lights.
Researchers convened to discuss the increasing impacts of light pollution earlier this week at the 24th annual International Congress for Conservation Biology in Edmonton, Alberta.
In the past century, night lighting has increased substantially. In a Nature News article, Travis Longcore, organizer of the conference and director of the California-based Urban Wildlands Group said, "We've turned major swathes of the globe into permanent full moon, or more."
And because of this, animals around the globe are suffering.
The most well known light pollution effects are on migratory birds. Bright lights distract and often disorient the birds, drawing them off course and sometimes leading them to fly into the sides of buildings.
But migratory animals are not the only victims. Night-foraging creatures, such as bats and mice, rely on the darkness to either hunt or provide protection from predators.
The “permanent full moon” effect makes these animals more vulnerable to being eaten, and the sometimes adapt by spending less time foraging away from their dens.
The more researchers uncover about the startling effects of light pollution, the more obvious it is that something needs to change in the way humans use and direct light.
Some cities, like Chicago, have implemented “lights out” programs where tall building lights are dimmed during bird migratory seasons. The effort is thought to save more than 10,000 birds each year.
These large-scale changes are crucial. But more can be done on an individual level, too. Turning off lights at night and changing outside light bulb directions — having the bulbs point down to the ground rather than up at the sky — substantially reduces glow.
Humans have mostly outgrown their dependence on the stars (save for astronomers, who have their own issues with light-pollution), but most animals have not.
Maybe in helping out wildlife, we can restore our own appreciation for the night sky.
Image: Woodleywonderworks, Flickr