Study shows Macau is one of the most luminous cities in the world

Vivian Tam

study being conducted by a Masters student shows that Macau is the most luminous city in the world, a matter that remains underrated by society.

Vivian Tam, currently studying Masters of Environmental Science and Management at the University of Saint Joseph’s Institute of Science and Environment, set up three sky quality meters in Macau to monitor the city’s brightness during the night.

Although Tam is still working through the preliminary results of her research, as the project only underwent four months of field analysis, the researcher said that the Macau peninsula’s sky brightness is relatively higher than the natural or average value, as determined by the International Dark Sky Association.

Mag/arcsec used to measure the brightness of the night sky. The lower the value of the mag/arsec measurement, the brighter the night sky is.

The International Dark Sky Association’s standard of darkness measurement is 21.6 mag/arcsec, however according to Tam’s data, the average data in Macau was recorded to be 12 to 15 mag/arcsec in January to April – 233 times brighter than international standards.

The researcher argued that Macau has low awareness on the city’s serious light pollution, adding that it has accepted the city’s night lights as part of its tourism appeal.

However, the region’s dense population also remains a significant factor of the pollution, along with Cotai Strip’s bright lights.

“Macau is one of the most light polluted cities in the world because of its dense residential area and its entertainment [properties] especially in Cotai,” said the researcher.

Although the data is still at its preliminary stage and will be concluded only when it has recorded the night sky brightness of all four seasons, Tam can only conclude for now that the city suffers from extreme light pollution – and the public remains unaware.

Exposure to excess lights may result in a decrease in one’s quality of life and Tam argued that the region should come up with regulations as part of a long term solution to decrease the pollution.

The researcher listed that the negative effects of light pollution on humans included sleeping disorders and the effect on the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness.

“There is low awareness on light pollution and people may think that it’s not important and that they can solve this just by closing their curtains at home. However this is not a long term solution,” the academic argued.

“The government has to make regulations […] and set up a proper evaluation and policy for the city,” Tam added.

The bright lights from a pawnshop

She compared Macau with Taiwan, Australia, the United States and other regions, which have established regulations to protect their cities against excess light.

According to her, streetlights in the residential areas and cities in these regions are controlled by its municipalities and are adjusted accordingly. “At night time, lights are dimmer in city central. People are very aware on what they need to do to protect the city from light pollution,” Tam said.

Questioned about whether she believed that Macau would be interested in focusing on the matter and setting up relevant regulations, the academic noted that integrated resorts play a significant role to promote light and energy conservation.

Although several integrated resorts are focusing on sustainability, Tam said there is a need to cooperate with gaming operator’s team members, along with relevant government officials to carry out the initiative to conserve light.

“If hotels cooperate, I think it helps put more emphasis on social corporate responsibility and sustainability.”

Tam acknowledged that it is still problematic to solve the matter, yet believed that residents can be more responsible in their use of lights at home.

Although hard to control as a significant number of residents are employed in shift work, promoting awareness on the issue is the first step in lowering the city’s light pollution.

Macau’s two ecological zones are also heavily affected by the light pollution as birds migrating in the area are disturbed.

Tam suggested that the government can help reduce light pollution by reducing the intensity of street lights and lights at the integrated resorts’ façade past a certain hour in the night.

Although she  acknowledges that the city’s skylines remain a sightseeing attraction in Macau, she suggested that Macau should also focus on its environmental initiatives to further attract visitors.
“If Macau can do pretty well on environmental efforts, they can use their environmental friendly image to attract more tourists to come in instead of using its hotels and entertainment offerings to attract tourists,” the researcher proposed.

Tam also considered the effect of the neon lights from Zhuhai, which are heavily evident in the ecological zones in Taipa, Coloane and in Sai Van area.

Further, while the study is still ongoing, with an indefinite time on when her research will conclude, Tam hopes that the current data will alert the public and the government to address the issue of light pollution.   

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