The sky’s no limit

Action Asia - - NEWS & VIEWS -

NEW ZEALAND’S GREAT Bar­rier Is­land, also known by its Maori name of Aotea, be­came the first is­land to be named a Dark Sky Sanc­tu­ary by the In­ter­na­tional Dark Sky As­so­ci­a­tion (IDA) in June. In­cor­po­rated in 1988, the IDA is a Us-based non-prof it founded by as­tronomers David Craw­ford and Tim Hunter with the aim to pre­serve and pro­tect the night­time en­vi­ron­ment and the her­itage of dark skies through qual­ity out­door light­ing. Though seen as one of the lesser of en­vi­ron­men­tal evils, light pol­lu­tion from im­proper shield­ing of out­door lights has been sug­gested as a con­trib­u­tor to hy­per­ten­sion, at­ten­tion deficit dis­or­der and even forms of cancer in hu­mans. In the an­i­mal king­dom, glare and ar­ti­fi­cial light dis­rupt breed­ing rit­u­als of am­phib­ians and birds’ f light pat­terns dur­ing mi­gra­tion and hunt­ing, which sig­nif­i­cantly af­fect their nest­ing and for­ag­ing be­hav­iours. Aotea’s ap­pli­ca­tion to the IDA was lodged by the Great Bar­rier Lo­cal Board with sup­port from Auckland Coun­cil, Auckland Astro­nom­i­cal So­ci­ety and other con­ser­va­tion and reg­u­la­tory bod­ies. The new sta­tus was granted only af­ter the is­land passed the IDA’S sci­en­tific mea­sure­ments of dark­ness as well as strin­gent stan­dards for out­door light­ing and com­mu­nity out­reach. Ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial re­lease, Auckland mayor Phil Goff says the sta­tus “will help pro­tect its dark sky and pro­vide im­pe­tus for Aotea to ad­vance a num­ber of com­ple­men­tary ini­tia­tives, in­clud­ing show­cas­ing al­ter­na­tive en­ergy use as well as pro­vide a new path­way for eco­nomic devel­op­ment”. He also be­lieves the IDA sta­tus will at­tract eco­tourists, as­tropho­tog­ra­phers, sci­en­tists and stu­dents to the is­land, which is cur­rently home to about 900 res­i­dents who lack even a su­per­mar­ket or ATM. Chile’s Ata­cama Desert and the deserts of Namibia, Botswana and Iran, have led the way in astro­nom­i­cal tourism, cater­ing to would-be astro­nauts and in­trepid trav­ellers who are into so­lar and night-sky view­ing. Typ­i­cal ex­cur­sions fea­ture mul­ti­me­dia pre­sen­ta­tions, ex­pert guests and full moon hikes. Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey con­ducted by the Bryce Canyon Na­tional Park in 2009, 67% of re­spon­dents who vis­ited their park said they learnt some­thing re­lat­ing to night skies and as­tron­omy. The Soneva Group, which owns a clus­ter of lux­ury re­sorts in Mal­dives and Thailand, is es­pe­cially proud to have an ob­ser­va­tory and as­tronomers at all three of its on-land prop­er­ties. “I think one of the big­gest shocks for peo­ple is when they visit a Soneva prop­erty and look up. We con­stantly hear the com­ment over and over of how many stars there are in the sky. Peo­ple (es­pe­cially ones from a big city) just don’t see stars any­more. When (guests) come out to our skies and see thou­sands of stars sparkling away, you can see a true re­al­i­sa­tion in their eyes on just how much light pol­lu­tion takes away. We all have this beau­ti­ful can­vas above us, but you can only en­joy af­ter you take the mask of light away,” says Soneva group as­tronomer Mike Dal­ley, who adds that more than 25% of guests who have en­joyed a preview of the night, have booked pri­vate as­tron­omy ses­sions to learn more.

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