The Fault in our Skies

How the rising light pollution level in Mumbai is impacting the ecosystem.

Shreya Gupta, Writer

Illustration by Rachel Mathew


Mankind’s greatest invention-the electric bulb, is a beautiful creation— guides us home when the sun goes down, making us feel safe. But, too much of the good thing has started to negatively impact the environment. Light pollution, the excessive, misdirected and obtrusive use of outdoor, artificial light in the night environment is disrupting the natural day-night pattern and aggravating the balance of nature. The levels of light pollution in India are rising mainly in the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra but people are still unaware that excessive light is the problem.


In the city of Mumbai, the brightly-lit outdoor areas have been providing succour and easement to many but, recently is an affliction to the residents of the ‘Mayanagari’. The artificial light overpowers the darkness and is affecting human health, wildlife behaviour and the ecological balance.


From the towering floodlights in and around Wankhede stadium, irradiating the faces of thousands of cricket fanatics, to the refulgent score boards and well-lighted pavilions, have become a bringer of ‘insect apocalypse’ as moths and crickets are unable to find a mate in some species and become an easy prey for the predatory group of rats, lizards, and snakes. Birds using moonlight and starlight to hunt and migrate at night are drawn to the artificial lights and deviate from their migratory routes, flying until they experience exhaustion and collapse.


Events in open spaces like wedding functions, sports events in the opulent gymkhanas of south Mumbai with vehemently-used LEDs are affecting the feeding, sleeping, mating, and migration cycles of the wildlife population and they experience disorientation of time. They also risk increased mortality due to night vision impairment as they are exposed to beaming headlights of vehicles— congested along the busy stretches of the narrow lanes in the city.


Mammoth advertising billboards of Lower Parel, metro rail site near Mahalakshmi, and the Coastal Road construction site are all using light levels which are harmful for a human eye. The light pollution can affect the level of melatonin, the naturally occurring hormone that regulates the sleep and wake cycle. The hormone is activated by darkness and repressed by light. Melatonin deficiency can result in anxiety and mood disorders, insomnia, and elevated estrogen or progesterone ratio.


Disrupting these rhythms can result in a variety of health problems, including sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, diabetes, cancer (particularly breast and prostate cancer), cardiovascular disease, immunological disorders, and obesity.

Constantly being exposed to these artificial lights in our surrounding disturbs the circadian rhythms—the physical, mental and behavioural changes that occur in a 24-hour cycle. The rhythms ebb and flow with natural light levels and regulate physiological activities such as brain wave patterns, hormone production, and cell regulation. Disrupting these rhythms can result in a variety of health problems, including sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, diabetes, cancer (particularly breast and prostate cancer), cardiovascular disease, immunological disorders, and obesity.


Light pollution has altered the view of the sky and the stars and has adversely affected astronomers. Light spill and sky glow interferes with astronomical equipment, and makes viewing faint celestial bodies difficult even with the aid of a telescope. We have lost our connection to nighttime skies, with the star-studded stories. We don’t have our sleep cycles timed like we used to as a kid, or how our ancestors set them to be. The sense of stillness, the charm of going for star gazing has now faded. The admiration for the stars, being right over our heads as we sit by Marine Drive in tranquility is an ideal nighttime scene. We have to look after the unprecedented light pollution levels so that we don’t have to look back, reminiscing the glamorized lighting.


Urban expansion, cropping up of new suburban residential areas and industrial development are the main actors for increasing brightness in the city. Even tourism has led to a tremendous increase in the light pollution levels as the city's major attractions Gateway of India, Haji Ali and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminal continue to illuminate congenially with its bluish-white lights which are detrimental for the ecosystem. We are to be blamed here, who always fancied the brightly-lit skyline of the city and night tours, roaming around the city just how we visualised in our favourite Bollywood rom-coms.


The city administration has to step-up and take charge, to curb the growing pollution levels. Asking the housing societies to switch off outdoor lights when not needed, monuments switching to the alternate warm-white lighting and tapping the usage of motion sensitive street lightings can drastically bring down levels of light pollution. Billboards emitting light at the levels of 50 lux or more (lux is the basic unit of light) should be switched off mandatorily during nighttime.


Providing and following these solutions would bring residents and the wildlife population, their beloved serenity that they had lost in the impetuous city life and maybe, for once, the city that never sleeps will fall asleep too.



References:

  1. Daley, J. (2019). Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/light-pollution-contributes-insect-apocalypse-180973642/

  2. International Dark Sky Association. Retrieved from: https://www.darksky.org/light-pollution/wildlife/#:~:text=Artificial%20Lights%20Disrupt%20the%20World's,by%20turning%20night%20into%20day.&text=Artificial%20lights%20disrupt%20this%20nocturnal,with%20reproduction%20and%20reducing%20populations.https://www.darksky.org/light-pollution/human-health/

  3. Globe At Night. Retrieved from: https://www.globeatnight.org/lightpollution.php#:~:text=Light%20pollution%20is%20excessive%2C%20misdirected,health%20effects%20and%20wastes%20energy.


Shreya is a third-year student at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai and is pursuing a Bachelor in Mass Media. She aspires to build a career in financial journalism. Her Instagram handle is @shreyagupta1300.

Email: guptashreyaa113@gmail.com

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/shreya-gupta-a56b1a140