An evening at the sea

An evening at the sea

Deutsche Version

If you’re at the sea, and it’s a warm night, what would you do? I would walk along the beach and take in the night with all its beauty. Start with the sound of the waves, savour the outlines of rocks, add some starlight and the moon. Perfect!

Alas, these days this turns out to be a rather difficult task. Or so we had to find out on our holiday. Actually, I’m starting to believe that since I work on light pollution, it has become increasingly harder to enjoy nights while travelling. Light seems to be everywhere. Last year we had been looking forward to relaxing nights on the balcony of our hotel room while the kids slept, just to find that there was no way to switch off the lights. This year, we had more luck: it was in our power to switch on the light on our balcony (which, by the way, pointed straight into the sky), and there was little light between us and the sea.

We were not so lucky when we walked along the seafront. Brela is a small town in Croatia with lots of small and some big hotels, quiet and sleepy, with a very nice walkway along the entire coast. You can either walk to the little harbour with its restaurants or along the many beaches that are seperated by rocks. What you can’t find is darkness. Because, probably for safety reasons, there are modern street lights.

Let’s be fair, Brela has considered the environment and went for LEDs. Most of them are shielded, so no light goes directly into the sky. Instead, lots of light goes downwards. And I mean lots of light.

However, Brela has made several of the typical mistakes so common when switching to LEDs. First, they chose white LEDs. Warm-white, okay, but still much whiter than necessary, especially since, and this is the second common mistake, the lights are too bright. Third, the beams are small and focused and the distance between luminaires is too big.

The effect is a very bright spot directly underneath the luminaire, with dark areas between luminaires. I actually felt the strain on my eyes which constantly tried to adjust to the changing light levels. It was painfully bright underneath the luminaires, uncomfortably dark between them, but nowhere dark enough to relax.

I’m pretty sure that safety was one of the reasons for the bright light, but seriously, if you can’t see what’s waiting for you in the dark between spot lights, it is hard to feel safe. It felt as if my last blog post on safe streetlights were haunting me.

In addition to my safety concerns, I could also witness the ecological impact of the bright lights. Small schools of fish, some individuals rather large, were gathering close to the water line. It is well documented that artificial light at night attracts fishes. For small fishes, there is more danger from predators since they lose the protection of darkness. In addition, diurnal predators, including birds like herons, are also attracted by the light. In any case, blue-rich lights interfere with the biological rhythms of all lifeforms around the light.

I felt sad to see how the attempt of a township to provide safe, environmentally friendly light went so wrong. Once again, I guess, because examples like these are quite common. It is high time for good light planning done by people who actually understand LEDs and are able to provide well-directed amber LED-light in the right intensity. Those people are out there. Ask them. Or consider using sodium high pressure lights. They are energy efficient and produce a broad light beam that is little attractive for insects and does not mess with the biological rhythms of humans and animals.

4 Replies to “An evening at the sea”

  1. They should install motion operated lighting that is of the minimum wattage to do the job required, and implement 11p.m. till dawn curfews to protect the environment. Light will still be there when needed so there will be no loss of amenity

  2. I lived in an unspoilt hamlet in the hills of central Italy where we could sit on our balcony at night and see the stars and fireflies. After the 1997 earthquake the zone was restored and lit. Admittedly with warm amber lights- but we could not sit on the balcony and see the night sky or insects again.

    1. Thank you for your comment. It’s always sad when an “improvement” takes away something precious. Our society believes that more light is better, but that’s simply wrong. The beauty of the night is a value in itself.

      Amber lights are definitely an option whenever you need light, but the first question we should ask ourselves is; “Do we really need any light here at all and if yes, how much?” More and more lights are introduced where we don’t need any at all, or new lights are way to bright. So the guidelines should be:
      1. Only use light where it is really need and switch off when it’s not needed anymore.
      2. Only use as much light as you really need, even if the light is cheap or produced with regenerative powers,
      3. Shield your lights so you will only illuminate the area you really need. Always turn lights downwards.
      This would help a lot against light pollution.

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