Preserving Costa Rica's Pure Nighttime Skies

Costa Rica stars

We come to Costa Rica for the love of nature, the great wide open spaces, the warm – clean air, the beautiful ever moving water, the peace and quiet, and a thousand other reasons and things that man did not create, but that grace this wild place under the sun. If we love it and want it to stay unspoiled each of us must be aware of how we live here, how we build here, and realize that what we do contributes to the future of Costa Rica.

Lets start with tips for saving our fantastically dark night sky. It is a privilege to live with an unspoiled view of the stars. 60% of Europeans and 80% of North Americans can no longer see the Milky Way at night, and close to 40% of people no longer even use their night vision. Humans have been living with electricity only since the late 19th Century, and along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica it has been less than 40 years.

The choices we make when building and growing communities can easily keep the velvety darkness at no extra financial cost to us, we just need to make thoughtful and informed decisions. Dark Night skies are important for many reasons for our health and the health of the wild animals around us. The loss of darkness also has effects on environmental and public health. The American Medical Association and numerous environmental groups have been studying the effects of artificial light on humans and animals.

The Importance of Dark Nights

Transition to our normal night-time physiology which should begin at about sunset. The increasing illumination of night has converged with our growing understanding of circadian physiology, and how light at night can disrupt that physiology. The suspicion has emerged recently that some serious maladies could result from circadian disruption such as poor sleep, obesity, diabetes, certain cancers and mood disorders.

Humans, like most other life forms on the planet, have what is called an endogenous circadian rhythmicity. This is a built-in cycle for sleep and wake patterns, hunger, activity, hormone production, body temperature and a vast array of other physiological processes. The cycle lasts roughly 24 hours, and light, especially sunlight, and darkness are important signals to keep it on track. There are some severe ecological consequences of light pollution that include mortality events on migrating birds, sea turtle hatching’s and sea mammals.

An unfounded belief is that that more and brighter lighting makes us safer, but there is no conclusive evidence suggesting that’s true. In fact, glare from unshielded lights can create harsh shadows where criminals can hide and bright lighting can even make it easier for criminals to work. So what can you do to guarantee you will not run off wild animals and can see the stars for years to come?

A non-profit organization has done all the research for us! Thank you International Dark Sky Association. And if enough people are interested we can protect the National Park and the community by working together to earn Dark Sky recognition.

Here are a few questions to ask to get started:

  • Does the area really need to be lit?

  • If so, for what purpose?

  • At what brightness?

  • Do any of the fixtures emit light above 90 degrees?

  • Is light trespass (light falling where it is not intended, wanted, or needed) an issue?

  • Is glare (excessive brightness that causes visual discomfort or difficulty seeing) an issue?

Depending on your answers, the following recommendations may apply:

  • Don’t light an area if it’s not needed.

  • Turn off the lights when not in use.

  • To save energy, don’t use excessive amounts of illumination.

  • Use timers, dimmers and motions sensors whenever possible.

  • Use only “full cut-off” or “fully shielded” lighting fixtures. That means no light above the 90-degree angle. Fully shielded lighting can be purchased or retrofitted. (Local’s tip: ICE will come out and hood existing street lights if you request it.)

  • Use energy-efficient lighting sources and fixtures.

  • Only use lighting sources with correlated color temperature (CCT) no higher than of 3000K. Most lighting products provide this information on their package labeling.

All of these recommendations should improve the quality of your outdoor lighting by minimizing glare, light trespass, skyglow and energy waste, while improving the efficiency and ambiance of your outdoor lighting.


This article was originally published in February 2017 for Costa Pacific Living, Costa Rica's premier lifestyle and living magazine in the Southern Zone.

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