Wakulla County has many things that draw folks to our small part of Florida, World Record pole-vaulting fish and deep freshwater springs, saltwater fishing, lighthouses, and the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory. But what many people don’t realize is that Wakulla has some of the darkest skies in Florida.
Many people have never thought about our skies other than to help determine if it’s good fishing weather. What I mean by dark skies is actually light pollution. Light pollution is that ugly glow caused by light in the night sky that keeps us from seeing night time sky constellations which include the Milky Way, our galactic neighbor. To simplify, light pollution experts created a scale called the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale. This scale will rate your ability to see constellations with the naked eye. The scale rates any location worldwide with a class rating of 1 through 9. 1 is an excellent dark-sky site like the middle of Antarctica, through 9 which is an inner-city sky similar to Central Park in New York City.
Now that I’ve bored you with the technical mumbo jumbo, I will jump into the interesting stuff. What is awesome is that most all of the skies above our heads here in Wakulla fall between a class 2 and class 3 and to give you an example of how dark we have it [in Wakulla], Tallahassee skies fall between a class 6 and 7. These dark sky areas benefit us in so many ways.
First dark skies benefit nature. Light pollution can affect an animal’s nocturnal abilities and navigation capabilities so migrating birds have it easier when we have less man-made lights to confuse them. Second, scientists say that light pollution has an effect on human health and anyone who has had a migraine headache can agree “no light is better”. Third, and in my humble opinion the most important, our dark skies down here in Wakulla gives us the greatest ability to see our stars and galactic neighbors in the Milky Way.
I love to photograph the night sky and find that it’s quick and easy to shoot from my back yard or take the 10-15-minute drive to one of our local coastlines and I can gaze and photograph all night long. We have some of the best views anywhere from St. Marks to Mashes Sands Beach. Those night skies are what many in night photography are jealous of. Many astrophotographers or night photographers must travel hours to get views that we have here in Wakulla.
So do yourself a favor and next time you head out on a clear night look up and savor another reason why Wakulla is such a great place.
Written by Michael Simmons of Flying Rotor Films