Light pollution and its impact was the central theme of World Migratory Bird Day 2022, a global campaign sponsored by the United Nations (UN) that was held this Saturday, and which aims to raise awareness among the population about these birds and the need for international cooperation to conserve them. Activities to commemorate the day are held around the world under the motto ‘Dim the lights for birds at night‘.
The UN warns that light pollution is increasing worldwide. Several scientific studies have estimated that more than 80% of the world’s population lives under a “lit sky”, a figure that approaches 99% in Europe and North America. With an aggravation: the amount of artificial light on the Earth’s surface is increasing at least 2% each year, and could be much higher in the short term.
“Natural darkness has a conservation value in the same way as clean water, air and soil.”, says Amy Fraenkel, executive secretary of the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).
“A key objective of World Migratory Bird Day 2022 is to raise awareness of the problem of light pollution and its negative impacts on migratory birds. solutions are available and we hope to encourage key decision makers to take action to tackle light pollution,” adds Fraenkel.
All experts emphasize that light pollution is a major and growing threat to wildlife, including many species of migratory birds. “Every year, light pollution contributes to the death of millions of birds”, highlights the UN.
Disorientation and fatal collisions
Among the impacts of light pollution are that it alters the natural patterns of light and darkness in ecosystems, and can change bird migration patternsforaging behaviors and vocal communication.
“Attracted to artificial light at night, particularly when there are low clouds, fog, rain, or when flying at lower altitudes, migratory birds become disoriented and they may end up hanging around in lighted areas. Depleted energy reserves put them at risk of depletion, predation, and fatal collision with buildings.
“A huge diversity of birds, active at night, experience the impacts of light pollution. Many nocturnal migratory birds such as ducks, geese, plovers, shorebirds and songbirds are affected by light pollution causing disorientation and fatal collisionssays Jacques Trouvilliez, executive secretary of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA).
“Seabirds such as petrels and shearwaters are attracted to artificial lights on land and become prey for rats and cats,” he adds.
The UN has pointed out several solutions and recommendations to mitigate light pollution. Light Pollution Guidelines covering sea turtles, seabirds and migratory shorebirds were approved by CMS members in 2020. Among their recommendations, six principles of best practice lighting. Also call for environmental impact assessments for relevant projects that could cause light pollution.
Environmental assessments should consider, according to the UN, the main sources of light pollution, likely wildlife species that could be affected, and data on proximity to important habitats and migratory routes.
The importance of dark skies
CMS is currently drafting a new guidelines focused on migratory landbirds and bats. They will be presented to the members of the collective for adoption at the 14th meeting of the CMS Conference of the Parties, in 2023.
However, the United Nations has stressed that many governments, municipalities, companies and communities around the world are already taking action to address the light pollution program.
He notes that in some cities, particularly in North America, initiatives such as “Lights Out” programs and “bird-friendly” building guidelines aim to protect migratory birds from light pollution by encourage building owners and managers to turn off any unnecessary lighting during migration periods.
“World Migratory Bird Day is a call to action for international migratory bird conservation,” comments Susan Bonfield, CMS Environment Director for the Americas. “As the journey of migratory birds across the borders, inspiring and connecting people along the way, we aim to use these two days in 2022 to raise awareness of the threat of light pollution and the importance of dark skies for bird migrationsBonfield concludes.
Light pollution also affects Spain. A study directed by the astrophysicist Alejandro Sánchez de Miguel studied the artificial light emissions between 1992 and 2017 and found that light pollution in Spain increased by up to 300%. The impact is serious, especially in nocturnal animals, as they depend on darkness to survive.
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