Dark-sky status offers bright future

The Aurora Australis as seen from Stewart Island. Photo: Rebecca Wilson Jennings
The Aurora Australis as seen from Stewart Island. Photo: Rebecca Wilson Jennings
Community leaders are hailing Stewart Island/Rakiura’s official recognition as the world’s fifth International Dark Sky Sanctuary.

The International Dark Sky Association announced yesterday the island had achieved the accreditation as one of the darkest and most remote  places on the globe.

It comes less than two years after Aotea/Great Barrier Island achieved the same distinction, while the Aoraki-Mackenzie region became an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2012.

Southland district councillor and Stewart Island resident Bruce Ford said it was a major milestone in the island’s history and would benefit the whole region.

"It’s something else to bring people into the region.

"We’ve been appreciating it for many years, and we’re quite happy to share it."

Because winter was the best time to see the night sky, it was likely to attract visitors at the time of year when they were most needed.

Mr Ford said the process had taken about two years, beginning with an assessment by Venture Southland in 2017 that proved the island was the best location in the region for astro-tourism.

Community support had been virtually unanimous, particularly after initial concerns that domestic lighting would need to be replaced immediately were allayed.

Instead, property owners could gradually replace  lighting that did not meet guidelines.

"Something a wee bit out of order doesn’t have to be changed tomorrow."

The island’s 41 street lights were replaced a few months ago with LED lights, which produce a softer, yellow light projected on to the ground. Venture Southland business and strategic projects general manager Steve Canny said he was thrilled with the result.

It promoted the Southland region as a top night-sky destination and would bring a significant increase in tourism, increase employment on the island, encourage preservation of the unspoiled natural environment and have economic benefits for the whole region.

Stewart Island Promotion Association representative Anita Geeson said the future was looking bright for the island.

"The international recognition of Dark Sky Sanctuary status adds to the attraction for potential visitors, offers opportunities to island tourism operators, and acknowledges the value the Stewart Island/Rakiura community places on environmental protection."

International Dark-Sky Association dark sky places programme manager Adam Dalton said the island’s night skies were a "rare treasure".

He commended the project’s many stakeholders for their "incredible efforts" to make the designation possible.

The application was prepared by an independent consultant and Venture Southland in partnership with the Stewart Island Promotion Association.

The process also involved the Southland District Council, the island’s community board, the Department of Conservation, the Rakiura Maori Lands Trust and iwi.

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