Sanctuary for night sky

Aurora Australis Oreti River. Photo: Videocopter NZ

THE stunning beauty of Stewart Island’s night sky is one step closer to gaining international recognition after the community indicated its strong support for the island becoming an accredited Dark Sky Sanctuary.

“It is a big deal. It is potentially a significant new initiative for Stewart Island,” Venture Southland (VS) group manager for business and strategic projects Steve Canny said.

Worldwide interest in the southern night sky and the Aurora Australis meant a Dark Sky accreditation would promote Stewart Island internationally as a top night sky observation destination, he said.

“There is the potential to increase employment on the island, boost tourism in the off-season and encourage preservation of the unspoiled natural environment.”

A Dark Sky Sanctuary is an area of public or private land which has an exceptional quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment protected for its scientific, natural, or educational value, its cultural heritage and/or public enjoyment. Dark Sky sanctuaries are typically situated in remote locations with little or no threat of light pollution.

At present, there are three certified international Dark Sky sanctuaries – New Zealand’s Great Barrier Island, Cosmic Campground, New Mexico, in the United States, and Gabriela Mistral, Chile.

Mr Canny said the quality of the night sky over Stewart Island had been measured and was found to be “world class” and of the quality required for official Dark Sky Sanctuary status.

A survey of Stewart Island residents and business owners was undertaken by VS in partnership with the Stewart Island Promotion Association in December-late February to gauge support for the initiative. Of the 90 respondents, 92% were in favour of Stewart Island becoming a Dark Sky Sanctuary.

Mr Canny said community support was essential to successfully obtaining the sanctuary status for the island.

Those who were opposed were not “vehemently” opposed, but rather required more information, he said.

The next steps in the process were to secure $16,000 in funding to complete a lighting plan and make an application for sanctuary status, and undertake further discussions with individual property owners to address their concerns and questions, he said.

“I am expecting the level of acceptance to increase further as a result of that consultation,” Mr Canny said.

Stewart Island Promotion Association chairwoman Anita Geeson said there would be definite economic benefits for both the island and the wider Southland region if Dark Sky status was secured for the island.

Stewart Island/Rakiura Community Board chairman Jon Spraggon said the board supported the Dark Sky proposal, which closely aligned to the Rakiura Land of the Glowing Sky brand.

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