Light Pollution and Its Detrimental Effects on Our Oceans

Updated: Jan 29

The many dangers our oceans face isn’t news to anyone following the trajectory of climate change. Human beings’ lifestyles make it difficult to protect our oceans from the harmful effects of microplastics, oil spills, residual industrial waste, and a myriad of other pollutants. One form of pollution that may not be on your radar, however, is the effect of light on ecosystems that lie close to the sea floor.  Emerging evidence shows how harmful light pollution can be and it is not something to be ignored.

Researchers from the University of Plymouth in England discovered these harmful effects. Their study focused specifically on coastal cities given they likely have the most significant effect on seafloor ecosystems. Their work has revealed that green light wavelengths leave up to 76% of the seafloor exposed to light pollution and blue light wavelengths leave up to 70% exposed. What’s so significant about this discovery is not that we now realize the dangers of light pollution, rather how much light is reaching the ocean floor and what it could do to certain marine species.

The significance of this study is the realization that a large quantity of artificial light is making contact with the seafloor, which may have perilous consequences for marine life. In fact, this same coastal light pollution is responsible for lowering the rate of photosynthesis of corals which largely affects the organisms that live in the reefs. Considering coral reefs represent the most diverse marine ecosystems on Earth, this is not an issue we can simply brush aside.

As more people move to cities, it is probable that light pollution will grow, and the number of marine ecosystems negatively affected will grow in turn. This is another opportunity for individuals to think about how they can reduce their impact on the environment. It can be as simple as researching the least harmful light bulbs to use in your home or community. Light pollution is one of many detrimental factors causing damage to our oceans, and it’s up to us as a national and global community to stop it in its tracks.

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