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World Starlight Reserves Taking Too Long

Process to set up world starlight reserves taking too long – Margaret Austin tells UNESCO conference in Spain

The process to recognise world starlight reserves, including the Tekapo-Aoraki/Mt Cook bid, is taking far too long, former Cabinet minister Margaret Austin told a UNESCO conference in Santa Cruz, the Canaries Islands, today.

Tekapo – Aoraki/Mt Cook are bidding for a world night-sky reserve. The New Zealand working party on the world night reserve quest is headed by Austin and it has sought government support to ensure they are successful.

However, Austin told a UNESCO conference in the Canaries today that urgency was required to set up world night sky reserves.

``While work has been ongoing for six years it is taking too long to define the protocols and to determine the way forward for Starlight Reserves.

``We have held meetings in Paris every year since 2005. The La Palma Declaration of 2007 was a great step forward in clarifying principles and the 2008 concept paper led to presentation of case studies at Fuerte Ventura in March this year of which Tekapo was one.’’

She said Tekapo Aoraki/Mt Cook has exceptional unpolluted skies with very low light pollution because of the lighting ordinances which are now nearly 30 years old. The University of Canterbury Observatory at Mt John is engaged in research and contributing to a worldwide network of astronomical endeavour.

``We are determined to support the starlight initiative and to achieve World Heritage status combining astronomical, environmental and tourism values. We have to pull out every stop we know to persuade the (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee that their operational guidelines are too restrictive and they must be revised to take into account the revolution which is taking place in astronomical and public understanding of what they have lost and what they must conserve.

``But if World Heritage rejects the initiative then we must be prepared to find an alternative pathway to achieving our goals for recognition,’’ Austin said.

The newly formed working party involving the Mackenzie Tourism and Development Trust has confirmed its intention to pursue New Zealand’s first starlight reserve in the Lake Tekapo and Mt Cook region.

Mt John above the Tekapo township is considered one of the most accessible observatories in the world. The observatory is home to six telescopes including the country's biggest telescope which measures 1.8m across and can observe 50 million stars each clear night.

Graeme Murray, a major driving force behind the Tekapo-Aoraki/Mt Cook project, said it would be a positive result for New Zealand and the district to have the Mt John observatory and the Lake Tekapo area confirmed as one of the world's first starlight reserves.

ENDS

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