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It’s not often we get a chance to turn down the lights and take in the beauty that the night sky has to offer. On Saturday, February 27, over 2,000 Palm Beach County residents, tourists, adults, kids, and nature lovers alike did just that – for free – at the fourth annual Dark Sky Festival.
People of all ages visited Palm Beach County’s Okeeheelee Nature Center from 6-10 p.m. to escape the glowing lights we are so often bombarded by, to gaze at the stars, learn about animals, and enjoy the peacefulness of the dark while having fun with their friends, family, and loved ones.
Campfire, animals, movies & more!
The night was filled with opportunities for visitors to roam the grounds, enjoying the
darkness. Indoors, owls, snakes, lizards and turtles gave animal lovers a chance to learn about the animals that depend on the dark for survival. Curious kids took turns dissecting owl pellets, and visitors of all ages learned about owls and bats through presentations from passionate experts.
Outdoors, active guests enjoyed guided nature hikes through the dark, while others gazed at stars and planets through telescopes. An outdoor classroom allowed guests to soak in the beauty of the night sky, while listening to campfire stories and eating s’mores.
Benji Studt, the Environmental Program Supervisor with Palm Beach County’s Environmental Resources Management, taught a workshop that introduced participants to Palm Beach County’s natural areas and the photographic and recreational opportunities that lay right outside our front doors. “I introduced participants to some tools to improve their composition skills,” said Studt.
Studt then handed the workshop over to local artist and FAU student Max Jackson, who taught the class about techniques to photograph the night sky. After the presentation, the class enjoyed Jackson’s new short film, “Pitch Black Light, A Journey Through America’s Darkest Skies”, which shows time-lapse footage of the stars passing by iconic landscapes from across the country. The film is a compilation of footage over the last two years, when Jackson spent his summers chasing the darkest skies in the country. Watch “Pitch Black Light, A Journey Through America’s Darkest Skies” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQdijzuCe3A
What is light pollution?
The goal of the event was to teach visitors about the negative affects of light pollution and to encourage better practices with lighting. Guided night hikes, a campfire and s’mores, outdoor movies, photography workshops, bat and owl presentations, live wildlife exhibits, among other activities, helped guests appreciate the darkness.
Light pollution is the “introduction of artificial light into the environment”. The event focused on the impacts of light pollution, and the benefits of having natural night skies. Excessive light pollution threatens humans and many animals, including sea turtles, owls, bats, and others that depend on the dark sky for survival. Excessive light pollution may also waste electricity and destroy the beauty of the night sky.
Why should we “turn down the lights”?
Various experts, photographers, and astronomers were on hand Saturday to explain the dangers of light pollution.
“Turning down the lights helps us all,” said Studt. According to Studt, light pollution impacts a variety of animals. “The natural light provided by the night sky gives sea turtle hatchlings the ability to find the ocean when they hatch.”
Furthermore, Studt explained that migratory birds use the night sky as a roadmap to their seasonal destinations, and humans feel effects to their circadian rhythm as a result of light pollution.
“We are literally losing our stars because of light pollution,” said Callie Sharkey, manager at Okeeheelee Nature Center, who also cited research that links artificial light to breast cancer, while Studt explained, “artificial light pollution is now being linked to human disorders such as obesity and depression.”
What can you do to help?
In addition to educating the public on the effect of light pollution, the event aimed to increase awareness on what steps can be taken to help fix the problem. You can start helping today:
- Check your home lights – is glare hiding potential intruders? Do your lights shine down, or out and up where energy is wasted?
- Turn off unnecessary lights – and use motion sensor switches for effective deterrence.
- Shield and lower lights, and use dark-sky friendly fixtures.
- Spread the word – tell businesses when you see that their lights are bad. Bad lights aren’t just unpleasant, they’re harmful, especially in coastal areas where turtles nest.
An annual event
Each year, thousands of enthused visitors make their way to Okeeheelee Nature Center to gaze at the stars and learn about what they can do to make the night sky more visible for humans and animals the depend on it. “We had people from all ages and demographics, and the response is overwhelmingly positive…people were impressed with how unique the event was,” said Sharkey.
This annual event is one of the largest dark sky events in the country; it was made possible through a partnership between the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department, Environmental Resources Management Department, International Dark-Sky Association, among others.
For more information on how you can help fix the problem of light pollution, please visit the International Dark-Sky Association, www.darksky.org.