A garden note

Earth Day SOS: Light pollution, migratory birds.

— Michael Olsen

Earth Day, April 22, falls outside the usual cycle of “Garden Notes” this year. It appears we who garden are among the remaining protectors of our natural surroundings: wetlands, pollinators, bats, nesting birds, clear skies, clean air and water, homegrown food, fireflies. We are the ones who stand up for what we stand on, our little patches of home and garden, and all those with whom we share these refuges.

Therefore, think twice, please, about installing “landscape lighting,” or any other nonessential source of nighttime illumination. Downlight and shield what is already installed; better yet, turn them off when not actually needed.

Take a look at the nighttime view “GOES East: Sector View Northeast” at bit.ly/gn_noaa_nesdis. It is all lights, the entire flyway: “The Atlantic Flyway is a major North-South flyway for migratory birds in North America. The route starts in Greenland, follows the coast of North America to South America and the Caribbean. Migratory birds travel this route every year. This route does not have mountains to block the path, and has good sources of water, food, and cover over its entire length. The Atlantic Flyway is the most densely populated and intensively developed of the four flyways … According to Audubon, about 500 bird species use the Atlantic Flyway,” according to the Cape Wildlife Center.

Martha’s Vineyard sits just outside this vast strip of light and air pollution. The Island is a vital way station for innumerable small migrating birds flying inconceivable distances. While its impacts are still being studied and vary widely across species, scientists do know light pollution is affecting how plants grow and reproduce, and how birds migrate. It disrupts seasonal rhythms, abilities to sense and react to natural light, and fragile relationships with pollinators. It disrupts human circadian cycles.

The more strained those relationships become, the more our food supply may be put in jeopardy. The more strained those relationships become, the more at risk human and planetary health become.