When we think about the biggest threats to the environment, carbon emissions, rising sea levels and plastic waste are often the most immediate issues that come to mind.
However, what is often overlooked is the very serious problem of light pollution and the potentially detrimental impact it can have on our planet’s wildlife and eco-systems.
Light pollution comes in many, and sometimes hidden forms, which is why it is arguably not receiving the global attention it truly deserves. Yet, its existential effects can be seen worldwide.
As Lighting Director at The Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC), I am acutely aware of the implications that excessive light can have on the environment.
The Red Sea Project is home to some of the world’s most unique marine species and endangered wildlife, and the region’s biodiversity is an important part of what makes it such a special destination.
It is my team’s responsibility to come up with new and exciting solutions for lighting the destination in a way that compliments the natural environment, rather than endanger it.
The hidden dangers of light pollution
Many animals, such as birds, turtles and insects are naturally photoperiodic, meaning their behaviour responses change due to daily, seasonal or yearly cycles of light and darkness.
This affects everything they do, from reproduction to eating and resting. Therefore, any artificial lights that are introduced to their habitat has the potential to alter their natural cycles in a harmful way.
Intense artificial lighting also pulls light away from the night sky, making the stars and moon appear less visible from the ground. High levels of light pollution are diminishing the natural wonder of our dark skies and it is an increasingly rare occurrence to see the galaxy in full display. This not only negatively impacts the environment, but we are also seeing it directly impact people too.
For instance, it is common for astrology centres to now be relocated far away from cities so that astrologers are able to see the galaxy clearly. Light pollution is therefore impacting our ability to study the night sky, despite the fact it is right above us.
Re-education is essential for resolving this hidden threat
The key to true environmental protection is embracing darkness. Across our 28,000km2 destination the mantra, “Less Is More”, is very much in line with our barefoot luxury approach and we have adopted an incredibly subtle approach to lighting our assets too.
My team works around the clock to ensure the destination remains an ultimate sanctuary for the natural wildlife that exists here, whilst ensuring our guests enjoy the beauty and wonder of the stars above.
We have recognised that it really does not take a lot of light to illuminate an area beautifully, it is all about striking the perfect balance.
As long as there is enough light for our guests to circulate safely, for our buildings to be visible at night and accentuating distinct features and points of interest, we are able to ensure the wellbeing of both our visitors and the natural environment.
One of the biggest challenges I face in my role is educating people about the importance of lighting the destination in a mindful way. In this day and age, we see built-up areas engaging in an intense competition for light, with the streets of urban cities and capitals lit up 24 hours a day.
Our approach at TRSDC is very different.
We have taken a step back and are looking at how we can light assets in a minimal way, whilst still retaining their nighttime character.
In line with our corporate vision, we are pushing the boundaries and breaking ground for design innovation. All areas of the destination, from the hotels to the golf course, and every contractor that we work with is made to comply with our dark sky principles.
These principles require all lights to be aimed downwards and be well shielded so as not to detract from the natural light emanating from the stars above. We have also made it a requirement that lighting must be warm rather than cold, as this is less harsh and emulates the natural tone that the native wildlife is accustomed to.
All of our assets have control systems too, so the light fixtures can be dimmed to save energy, reduce light spill and light levels as required. Motion and daylight sensors are being used as devices of the control system, so areas which are not occupied are switched off or softly dimmed, always assuring a level of security and wayfinding for our guests.
These principles are aligned with the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), and are constantly under review to ensure they remain relevant to the changing habitats and behaviours of the wildlife that lives here.
We are also looking at ways to set new benchmarks for reducing light pollution, not just within the tourism industry but globally.
TRSDC is in discussion with The International Dark Skies Association (IDA) to secure the official accreditation to become a ‘Dark Sky Place’, meaning we would be recognised as a one of a kind eco-touristic resort, creating a unique connection to nature through the absence of light, and setting an example for future developments worldwide.
By looking at the non-conventional ways we can light our site, and by limiting the amount of light that is reflected back, we have created a true equilibrium with the destination’s natural surroundings.
Our work shows there is no need for overindulgence. The best use of light is strategic, and darkness must be embraced if we are to protect our beautiful skies for years to come.