Thursday, January 31, 2013

LOOK FOR: Light Pollution

My parents live in north Florida, and every few years Matt and I go even further south, to the Everglades, after Christmas. And then we head out by canoe, and camp somewhere far away from any electricity or any roads. It makes for amazing wildlife viewing -- birds, dolphins, sharks, massive stingrays -- but also, at night, for amazing star viewing.

When you're used to the view from your backyard (or apartment window), it's hard to know what you're missing. But let me tell you, the view from my backyard -- and probably yours -- is missing something.

These two pictures are views of the same patch of sky, with very different levels of background light (from houses, businesses, and streetlights). One of them looks about like what I saw in the Everglades, and the other is about what I see from my backyard. Which one looks more like your view?

Image credit: Jan Hollan via Globe at Night

Image credit: Jan Hollan via Globe at Night

A citizen science project called Globe at Night is asking exactly that question, and trying to gather data from around the world about how much light pollution is affecting what people see in the sky at night.

But it's not just about our enjoyment of the night sky. Light pollution affects the reproductive success of many species and wreaks havoc on migrating birds and nocturnal critters.

For the next four months, Globe at Night has listed the moonless nights when they want you to look up, then match the brightness of what you see to one of their charts and report back on their website. One of the windows is now through February 9. The instructions are easy. Take a friend and get outside!

Want to learn more, or get active on this issue? Check out the International Dark Sky Association.


Anonymous said...

I love your posts. Please keep them coming!!

Elizabeth Hargrave said...


John said...

I'm hoping to make it down to the Everglades in a few weeks!

I'll be in Tampa for a performance, and then I'll have a few extra days afterwards before returning to DC.

Last time I visited the Everglades I stayed at the main campsite in Flamingo, but I'm interested in spending one night in the back country. Do you have any recommendations for a one night paddle out to a campsite? I'll be closest to the Gulf side coming from Tampa, but could potentially drive all the way to Flamingo.

The view of the stars in the Everglades is unbelievable. I remember gasping when I looked up during my first night.

Elizabeth Hargrave said...

It kind of depends on what counts to you as mileage for a one-night paddle and how comfortable you are with paddling on open water. Most of the chickees near Everglades City/Chokoloskee are out in the 10,000 islands and if the wind is against you it can be pretty difficult paddling. My favorite day trip out of that area is the Turner River -- which is protected most of the way. We combined it with an overnight trip to Sunday Bay chickee once. It was beautiful but the wind coming across Chokoloskee Bay on the way back was no fun. Then again on our most recent trip we paddled 10 miles on open water with no wind, no problem. Check out this map for the mileages:

You can't reserve far ahead anyway so you could wait and see what the weather report is then go talk to the ranger in charge of reservations at Flamingo about your best options.

For another camping alternative, you could also check out Mitchell's Landing and Pinecrest in Big Cypress, off the scenic Loop Road. NOT backcountry -- there are maybe a dozen concrete pads, and latrines (but no water) -- but it's far enough off 41 to be quiet and dark at night. And they're free! We found it a good jumping-off point for early morning birding at Shark Valley -- which is a paved trail, also not a backcountry-type experience, but lots of cool birds nonetheless (and a million gators).

Elizabeth Hargrave said...

oops, I said Flamingo, but I think there's also someone in Everglades City.

John said...

Thanks for the very helpful tips! We'll decide what to do when we see how the wind is blowing.

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