Stargazing! Owl presentations! Food trucks? Palm Beach County's second annual Dark Sky Festival sounds fun enough to postpone other evening activities and/or keep the kids up late. Not only that, it's a way to raise awareness of an under-recognized environmental issue with consequences for wildlife and human health.
Jointly sponsored by county government and the South Florida chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association, this year's event is set for tomorrow night at Okeeheelee Nature Center in West Palm Beach, a place relatively free of "sky glow."
That pernicious phenomenon is the IDA's bête noire (so to speak) the result of the built environment's relentless expansion into the wild and the careless use of artificial light. (Like your neighbor's or the local Stop'n'Shop's choice of glaring spots, for both of which the IDA has many market-friendly, energy-saving solutions.)
Collectively, the overuse of nighttime lighting is more than a mere annoyance. Everybody knows about sea turtles, how night lights disorient their newly hatched young, luring them inland rather than to the sea, and to their deaths. But the problem extends to species of every type, throwing the hormonal signals of their biological clocks out of whack, with dire consequences. Neither are plants and trees immune.
Beyond that, a growing body of research suggests that light pollution may impact human health, playing a role in breast and prostate cancers. The American Medical Association recognizes the effect on sleep and sleep disorders, and has called for "further study of the possible link between light at night and cancer risk, obesity, and exacerbation of chronic diseases such as diabetes."
On the up side, the reduction of light pollution equals an increase in pleasure, as the organizers of Saturday's event intend to show, gathering together to "enjoy the wonders of starlight in the night sky." There will be telescopes.
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers public affairs and culture in Palm Beach County and elsewhere. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.