For thousands of years, tiny hatchling sea turtles have known how to find their way to the sea: Just scramble across the sand toward the moonlight glowing off the water - unless the beach is illuminated by artificial lights. In that case, the tiny turtles crawl toward those lights, until they die of exhaustion or are run over by passing cars.
Sea turtles are just one of many animal species in Israel that are harmed by "ecological light pollution" - the artificial lights along streets and in urban areas. Animals, which instinctively respond to natural light, become confused and disoriented by artificial light, which also disrupts their biological clocks.
Dr. Noam Leader, the chief ecologist for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, explains in a document published by INPA that some wild animals are obsessively attracted to light and thereby expose themselves to predators, while others, like the dwarf bat, shun lit areas and lose out on food sources. Near water sources, artificial light can expose amphibians such as frogs and toads to birds of prey, foxes and other predators. The animals' biological clocks, which regulate their hormones, are disrupted. Artificial lighting causes songbirds, for example, to start nesting in the autumn instead of spring.
Now INPA is trying to persuade the Israel National Roads Company to plan highway lighting to reduce harm to wildlife. Although the company has built tunnels under roads to make it easier for animals to traverse their roaming territory, Leader notes that the artificial lights affect the special tunnels, too.
"The tunnels' efficiency declines drastically if they are exposed to light. We believe that the artificial light issue was not taken into consideration when the tunnels were planned," writes Leader.
Experts at INPA have drafted recommendations aimed at reducing the damage caused by the lighting without infringing on road safety. One recommendation is to turn off most of the lights in open areas with many wild animals, retaining only the lights that are essential for road safety. Another recommendation is lighting aimed directly downward and inward toward the road. Leader also suggests examining alternatives to artificial lighting, such as solar reflectors that increase visibility during nighttime hours and under inclement weather conditions.
In addition, Leader recommends turning off the lights in the immediate proximity of under-road passages, thus increasing the chances that a shy deer or suspicious fox will use the passage and be able to continue to wander safely between towns and among the tangle of roads.
INPA hopes to implement these recommendations for the two under-road passages for large animals currently under construction in the northern section of the Trans-Israel Highway (Highway 6).