Erosion of the Maltese Islands’ dark skies at Dwejra, Gozo
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The preservation of the darkness of our night skies is of great importance to humanity. The night sky is a window to our own universe, enabling us to revel in its beauty and to understand our place in the cosmos. It is also our heritage, as it reminds us of its strong association with our own history, with our islands having hosted an ancient civilization which astronomically aligned some of its megalithic temples.
Over the years it has emerged that light pollution not only undermines our ability to appreciate the above, but it also disrupts several ecosystems. More recently, studies have shown the adverse effect of excessive artificial lighting at night on our own health. An unpolluted night sky that allows the enjoyment and contemplation of the firmament is considered a fundamental socio-cultural and environmental right of all human beings. Moreover, light sent upwards into the night sky is simply a waste of energy and money.
The nightscape of the Maltese islands has taken a severe turn for the worse. A number of locations have seen a tremendous increase in light pollution arising from an increase in poorly-designed and installed artificial lighting in urban areas as well as the emergence of artificial lighting in sites which are supposed to be protected.
The site of Dwejra in Gozo is a Dark-Sky Heritage Area, and accordingly should be protected by MEPA as described in its Local Plan for Gozo and Comino, which regulates the preservation of the Maltese dark sky heritage at several areas on the islands. It is very sad to note that these regulations have been breached by the use of lighting fixtures which illuminate not just the outside sitting area of the newly established restaurant “Azure” but also the night sky.
Until recently, the splendour of the Milky Way was prominently visible from Dwejra, which was one of the very few remaining locations on the Maltese islands from where the core of our own galaxy was clearly visible. Sadly, this is bound to become a thing of the past. Not only will the public be denied of their right to observe the beauty of our cosmic habitat, but valuable scientific observations which are sensitive to light pollution will be severely hindered.
Additionally Dwejra hosts several hundred pairs of nesting Cory’s Shearwater which are very sensitive to light pollution when they return to the cliffs at night. The problem is especially pronounced during these weeks when young shearwaters get disoriented and attracted by artificial light sources, risking collision with man-made structures or landing in their vicinity, getting road-killed or preyed upon.
MEPA and the Ministry for Tourism, the Environment and Culture have repeatedly been notified of these issues and asked to act – but no progress was registered. Dwejra has been protected both on a local and international level as part of the EU Natura 2000 network and is the largest contiguous protected land and sea area in Malta.
Our islands have long shared a strong kinship with the night sky, and the conservation of certain faunal colonies depends strongly on our preservation of its darkness. Maltese citizens are very sensitive to the preservation of the night sky as could be seen from the readiness with which establishments and the public reacted to calls for no lighting at Gnejna, where a turtle laid eggs. However, lack of attention and safeguarding of our night sky by the authorities is posing a severe threat both to our ecosystem and our ability to enjoy the beauty of the natural habitat of our islands.
The Astronomical Society of Malta & the Light Pollution Awareness Group, Nature Trust (Malta), Friends of the Earth Malta, Din l-Art Helwa and Birdlife Malta strongly urge MEPA to act in the interest of our natural landscape, and both enforce and enhance its own regulations wherever they should be in place.
The photograph above is taken by Benjamin Metzger on the 28th of August.