Great Bar­rier’s ‘ex­cep­tional’ star sta­tus


An off-the-grid Auck­land is­land has been named an In­ter­na­tional Dark Sky Sanc­tu­ary – the first is­land in the world to re­ceive that sta­tus.

Great Bar­rier Is­land, about 100km north­east of Auck­land’s CBD, re­ceived the hon­our from the In­ter­na­tional Dark-Sky As­so­ci­a­tion. The as­so­ci­a­tion deemed the iso­lated is­land as hav­ing an ex­cep­tional or dis­tin­guished qual­ity of starry nights.

Be­fore grant­ing the sta­tus, the as­so­ci­a­tion sci­en­tif­i­cally mea­sured the dark­ness of the is­land’s sky and out­door light­ing stan­dards. Much of Great Bar­rier Is­land is ‘off the grid’ and about 950 res­i­dents live with­out retic­u­lated power. There are no traf­fic lights, su­per­mar­kets or ATMs, mean­ing there is lit­tle light pol­lu­tion.

Many res­i­dents run their homes on so­lar power and use wood burn­ers or stoves for heat.

The com­mu­nity’s fo­cus on pro­tect­ing and pre­serv­ing the is­land’s nat­u­ral beauty made it the ‘‘ideal’’ lo­ca­tion to re­ceive In­ter­na­tional Dark Sky Sanc­tu­ary sta­tus, Auck­land Mayor Phil Goff said.

‘‘Great Bar­rier Is­land is a place of rugged beauty and un­touched wilder­ness, and is one of the most tran­quil and un­spoilt places in the wider Auck­land re­gion.’’

The is­land is the third place in the world to be des­ig­nated a sanc­tu­ary. Ap­pli­ca­tion for the sta­tus was lodged by the Great Bar­rier Lo­cal Board with sup­port from lo­cal and cen­tral gov­ern­ment, iwi and the Auck­land As­tro­nom­i­cal So­ci­ety.

Lo­cal board chair­woman Izzy Ford­ham said the sta­tus was ‘‘re­served for the most iso­lated and dark lo­ca­tions in the world’’.

She hoped it would pro­vide more eco-tourism op­por­tu­ni­ties for the is­land and ‘‘en­sure the preser­va­tion of our ex­cep­tional starry skies’’.

Great Bar­rier res­i­dents Gendie and Richard Somerville-Ryan worked with Auck­land as­tronomer Nalayini Davies to gather the ev­i­dence needed to gain the sta­tus.

They took the first set of mea­sure­ments in Septem­ber 2016.

‘‘Our mea­sure­ments showed what we had all sus­pected – the Great Bar­rier Is­land skies are as good as it gets,’’ they said.

A sanc­tu­ary dif­fers from a Dark Sky Park or Re­serve in that it is typ­i­cally in a very re­mote lo­ca­tion, with few, if any, nearby threats to the qual­ity of its dark night skies.

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