The Malta Independent 25 June 2022, Saturday

Light pollution in Malta getting worse year on year - astrophysicist

Shona Berger Monday, 29 June 2020, 07:15 Last update: about 3 years ago

On a government level, the likelihood of curbing light pollution in the country involves taking a step beyond issuing guidelines and moving towards enforceable policies since the situation is worsening year on year, Astrophysicist Joseph Caruana told The Malta Independent.  

He highlighted that despite this, it is one of the easiest forms of pollution to tackle –


The Ministry for the Environment, Climate Change and Planning issued a public consultation on light pollution guidelines on Tuesday 23rd which aim to improve the Maltese urban and rural environment.

Caruana was asked for his feedback on these guidelines and he remarked that “they represent a very good step forward, in that they recognise the existence of the problem and the need to address it.”

Before the guidelines were issued, Caruana explained that together with some organisations, they had been calling for action regarding such matters for many years. While they were not asked to participate in the drawing up of this document, they will be providing technical feedback as part of the public consultation process, and “we very much hope our recommendations will be taken on board.”

In particular, as it currently stands, the document fails to refer to relevant data presented in the only peer-reviewed scientific study focussing entirely on the night sky brightness of the Maltese Islands published earlier this year, he said.

Photos: Joseph Caruana

“That in itself may simply reflect that the document was drawn up beforehand and had not been updated since, but this can be easily fixed.” However, Caruana expressed that the main concern regarding such guidelines is that on their own they are not sufficient, unless entrenched in policy and enforced.

“The term ‘Light Pollution’ captures the negative effects that result from excessive or badly-designed artificial lighting.” Caruana explained that “light pollution is caused when one uses more illumination than is adequate for a given purpose, or employs badly-designed fixtures that result in light spilling beyond the zone that is required to be lit.” He stated that “light pollution manifests itself in three principal ways: skyglow, glare and light trespass.”

Caruana further unravelled such terms, explaining that “skyglow is the diffuse glow that pervades the night sky; when light emanates upwards, it is scattered all over the place by gas and dust particles in the atmosphere, such that the sky appears lit up.” In addition, “glare is most easily described as the uncomfortable experience of having a direct light shining in your eyes, and light trespass occurs when light ends up in zones it is not intended to reach.”

Light Pollution causes a number of dangers while also damaging the environment. Caruana elaborated on such issues and said that light pollution “represents energy wastage, it is a threat to our ecology as numerous species are affected by artificial light at night, it can have adverse effects on human health, and it erodes our ability to view the night sky, be it for scientific purposes, education, or simply the enjoyment of so many splendid sights that nature has to offer.”

With regard to the natural environment and ecology, “light pollution can affect the nesting habits of turtles, result in stranded birds, disrupt birds’ migratory patterns, threaten pollination, and interfere with the courtship of such insect species as fireflies.” 

Research led by Caruana over a number of years shows that light pollution is a pervasive problem which is getting worse year-on-year. Although light pollution guidelines have been launched, there is still a lot of work to be done in this regard.

Caruana explained that “necessary action needs to be taken on existing lighting fixtures, public monuments and buildings, church facades, and showrooms which are excessively lit all night long.”

This excessive light causes countless problems for nothing. Caruana said: “we need to start mitigating these existing issues now, by simply switching off the lights that are not required (after a certain time of night). This would involve establishing lighting curfews on existing fixtures without delay."

In addition, Caruana remarked, “had the relevant authorities listened, the country would not have missed an incredible opportunity in recent years when replacing road lighting with full-cutoff LED fixtures. The switch to full-cutoff lighting was a good thing, but they made use of a blue-white LED, despite scientific evidence pointing to a need to shift away from such fixtures and use of a warmer colour.”

He added that “it is mind-boggling that the opportunity was squandered so overtly, going against what science has been telling us throughout.” What makes matters worse is that these fixtures have a long lifetime, therefore “we will be stuck with this problem for quite a while.”

“The solution is as simple as using the right bulb. Hopefully, the lesson has been learnt, even if very late in the day,” he said.

With regards to different approaches and solutions which can help curb light pollution, Caruana stated that “there needs to be coordination between government, local councils, our heritage organisation, and the Church’s environment commission to start addressing the horrific problems that already exist. All authorities need to listen to the science first and foremost, with which we are happy to help.”

“The decorative lighting of several roundabouts, public squares and historic buildings in our country can only be described as carnivalesque,” he said. In addition, “church domes and facades are lit up with a dazzling cacophony of floodlighting” which also pose major issues. However, these will not go away on their own. Action can be taken in order to decrease light pollution in the country by switching off such lights past a certain hour.

In addition, when it comes to individual citizens, Caruana explained that everyone could be of help in curbing light pollution, and progress can only be achieved “if we work together.”

He said that when it comes to outdoor lighting “one should always ask themselves the following questions: is it really needed? And if it is, can one do with motion-triggered lighting that turns on only when required?”

He also urged people to get in touch with their respective local councils and address the problems within the community.

“I hope we reach the day when our night sky is restored for future generations to enjoy. Simple steps which help reduce light pollution go a long way,” Caruana said.

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