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Saving the South Island’s stars

Media release – November 18, 2008

Saving the South Island’s stars: Mackenzie’s bid to open the world’s first starlight reserve

The skies above the Mackenzie country could be the home of the world’s first starlight reserve in 2009, the Year of Astronomy.

Tekapo’s Graeme Murray, is part of a driving force behind the sky reserve, and if they have their way, UNESCO will likely announce the World Heritage site – and Earth’s first starlight reserve – in Paris next year – to coincide with the 2009, International Year of Astronomy..

Murray, helped initiate the proposal during his term as chairman of the Mackenzie Tourism and Development Board. One of the important cornerstones of the Lake Tekapo community’s long term vision Statement was to protect the area’s unique Dark Sky.

``We want to better protect one of the Mackenzie’s most valuable assets, its Dark, starry Sky. It has never been done anywhere in the world so we hope we’ll be successful,’’ Murray said today.

``Former MP Margaret Austin and New Zealand UNESCO representative is leading the initiative and she will attend the important UNESCO meeting in Paris in January where further consideration will be given to the draft document that has been prepared.

UNESCO and its world heritage committee seem keen to make the sky above Lake Tekapo and Aoraki Mt Cook the pilot study for the World’s first heritage Starlight Reserve. A type of Park in the Sky..

Through the initiatives of the Mackenzie District Council most of the required regulatory ordinances that might be required for such a status are already in place.. All Tekapo streets lights are Sodium and shielded from above to reduce the glow and all household lights must face down --- not up. This in turn encourages the responsible use of electricity and to avoid energy waste.

The reserve would give recognition and protection for the region’s dark unpolluted skies, unlike big cities which are lit up like beacons. Light-pollution is a major problem world-wide. But the Mackenzie Country night sky is of significantly high scientific value and has long been regarded as a Mecca for astronomers and stargazers alike.

Mt John above the Tekapo township is considered the most beautiful, easily accessible observatory in the World. The observatory is home to six telescopes and is also home to the country’s biggest telescope which measures 1.8m across and can observe 50 million stars each night.

NZ has just three of the 851 listed world heritage sites: Te Wahipounamu (Milford Sound area), Tongariro and the sub-Antarctic islands. Now Murray wants to add a fourth one: the Mackenzie Country’s Dark Sky.

``The Mt John observatory science projects above the Tekapo township are also a special and valuable eco-tourist attraction but as the interest is great we sometimes have to limit the number of visitors particularly at night.

``Astronomers from Nagoya University in conjunction with NZ Universities are involved in the MOA project are at the leading edge of searching for another planet similar to Earth. Natural beauty here does not end at dusk – thanks to almost zero light pollution – at this stage.’’

The Mackenzie District Council is already leading NZ and many parts of the world with special ordinances and by-laws in place controlling the use of lighting and restricting light pollution in the area. It is envisaged a night sky reserve would also embrace the Aoraki Mt Cook national park..


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