When people think of the environmental threats caused by expanded offshore oil drilling, they usually think of oil spills, and of the pollution that comes as a result of the drilling process itself, with heavy metals polluting sea floor sediments, and creeping up the food chain into people’s favorite seafoods. They usually don’t think about the problem of light.
We don’t usually think of light as a form of pollution. Light is supposed to stand for something pure, something pristine and positive. When light intrudes upon natural times of darkness, and destroys the activities of nocturnal animals, it is indeed a form of pollution.
One species that is harmed by light pollution is the ashy storm petrel, a sea bird that nests along the American coast of the Pacific Ocean. Due to this bird’s pelagic nature (living much of the time upon the open ocean), not all aspects of its behavior are known. However, this much is clear: When the ashy storm petrel is nesting, it only leaves the nest to feed when at night.
The Center for Biological Diversity explains the danger that this nocturnal behavior poses to the survival of the ashy storm petrel, when it encounters offshore drilling operations: “The specter of new oil and gas development off California’s coast and proposed offshore liquefied natural gas terminals threaten to increase greenhouse gas pollution, oil spills, and artificial lighting at night. An oil spill near breeding or foraging hotspots could decimate a large percentage of the global population. Artificial light at night attracts nocturnally active seabirds such as the ashy storm petrel like moths to a flame. Instead of going about their natural activities, storm petrels will continuously circle or collide with lighted structures at night, leading to exhaustion, injury, and even death.”
In the last 25 years, the number of ashy storm petrels has been reduced to just one quarter of its previous level. Yet, the Obama Administration has recently decided to deny the listing of the ashy storm petrel under the Endangered Species Act.
If the Obama Administration won’t act to protect emperiled wildlife like the ashy storm petrel, then we must. By reducing the amount of petroleum products we use, we can reduce toxic air pollution, slow down global warming, bolster the economy, and give light-loving birds like the ashy storm petrel a hand as well.