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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 27, 2006

Critters, city lights don't mix

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Columnist

Lights extend our daylight activities into the night, but researchers are increasingly finding that not all of nature is thrilled by the lights of civilization.

Among the most visible species threatened by lights are Hawai'i's mountain-nesting seabirds, such as Newell's shearwaters and dark-rumped petrels.

Fledglings often leave the nesting areas for the first time near sunset, heading downslope for the sea, where stars and moonlight glint off the waves.

But in urban areas, they are often confused by streetlights, stadium lights and resort lighting, and can sometimes be seen sweeping in great circles around such illumination until they collapse, exhausted, to the ground.

Extensive rescue programs have been launched, primarily on Maui and Kaua'i, in which people pick up birds before predators get them, and bring them to rescue centers.

Sea turtles are also confused by the lights of civilization, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Mother turtles will avoid nesting beaches with lights, and newly hatched turtles will often head for artificial lights of land instead of the sea.

Light attracts some insects, which you can see buzzing around your screens or streetlights. Predators like geckos follow them to these same locations.

Many of those insects may have uses in the environment, writes Robert Fisher, a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey who co-wrote a chapter in the recent book "Ecological Consequences of Artificial Night Lighting" (Island Press, 2006).

Lighting, for instance, could be attracting pollinators away from the plants they're normally attending, leading to reduced crop yields.

Still, we can often find lights useful in controlling our environment.

A light on a rose bush will keep the Chinese rose beetle from eating its leaves.

And some folks put out lights away from their homes on the warm, windless evenings of June, when termite swarm to draw the wood-eaters away from their houses.

Some lighting manufacturers have responded to these concerns with lighting designs that minimize extraneous light, keeping night skies and beaches dark, as most of nature apparently prefers.

If you have a question or concern about the Hawaiian environment, drop a note to Jan TenBruggencate at P.O. Box 524, Lihu'e, HI 96766 or jant@honoluluadvertiser.com. Or call him at (808) 245-3074.