An Inky Black Continent – Light Pollution in Australia

Pictured: Perth as seen from the International Space Station (via National Geographic)

An Inky black continent

Light pollution has hit the radar and Australia now has two International Dark-Sky places. One in NSW National Park, the Warrumbungles another in Queensland, at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs and a few in various states of creation. Increasingly, lighting companies are marketing dark sky luminaires and policy-makers are drafting good lighting guidelines.

Earlier this year, Northern Beaches Council unanimously agreed to investigate the creation of an Urban Night Sky Park at Barrenjoey Headland, (a new concept in the range of International Dark-sky Association Dark Sky Places) and, this month, Councillor Robertson successfully moved the motion to turn off some street lights in Byron Bay, after years of gentle advocacy by Dylan O’Donnell. Even NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes got in on the act, in parliament, sharing his dream of having all New South Wales able to see the night sky.

Byron Bay’s mayor Simon Richardson recently moved a motion unanimously through council to investigate the reduction of light pollution.

With help from many of you, over 4500 students made the news earlier this month, when they entered a Dark Sky School competition to understand and reduce light pollution. Mentors from local astronomy groups, lighting industry groups and ecology institutions supported teams of 4, to come up with innovative ideas to mitigate the effects. Young Australians are now night-light savvy – and no doubt driving their parents insane with requests to change globes.

The growing trend is for lighting companies to engage councils to reduce their carbon footprint and upward light spill by implementing fully shielded LED streetlights. The message for saving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions has hit the bottom line and we’re seeing streetlights rollout across the country that reduce upward light-spill.

Yay! Good news for astronomers, right? As skyglow reduces the stars should come out again, but now the issue is being pushed downwards, with nocturnal wildlife behaviours impacted as brighter, more powerful light is directed downwards. Just ask the Bogong Moth, who may be being distracted by lights in Canberra on the migratory flight from Queensland, therefore not making it to their summer home in the alpine regions. The endangered Pygmy Possum are then robbed of their natural food source, resulting in the up to 95% of young dying in their mothers’ pouch.

A number of hard-working individuals and organisations (IDA Chapters, Solis, Urban Light Lab, Dylan O’Donnell, to name but a few) have been doing their bit, but when asked of the challenges, they all spoke of isolation and fatigue of breaking new ground. As a result, The Australasian Dark Sky Alliance, or ADSA was formed to give a local focus to Dark Sky protection, education and advocacy. Distinct from the IDA it closely aligns with them, to support and promote the IDA Dark Sky Places certification program and education resources. Western-Australian based Dr Kellie Pendoley, is the Vice President of the IDA and a founding board member of ADSA and provides the link between the two.

The issue of Artificial Light at Night is not a simple one, but the more we talk about it, the more people, clubs and councils engage with it, the better. List your observatory with the ASA and join us in creating more dark sky places. Dealing with light pollution does not mean living in the dark, but living in a continent that is not visible at night by the ISS is a good start!

Marnie Ogg
Founder Australasian Dark Sky Alliance

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