New Zealand is pushing forward with its bid to make Tekapo the world's first night sky reserve. Former cabinet minister Margaret Austin, who is chairwoman of New Zealand's Starlight Reserve committee, has been in Paris attending the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) meeting.
Austin says she made the Starlight Reserve bid - one of eight worldwide night heritage site bids - on behalf of New Zealand and the Mackenzie District's Dark Sky bid.The bid is to preserve the dark night sky for the Mt. John observatory above Lake Tekapo.
Half of the people around the world cannot see the stars because of night light pollution, she says."I was well received in Paris this week and introduced a different dimension with references to the significance of the cultural heritage and Pacific people's knowledge of the stars and how life was regulated and revolved around them," Austin says.
She is returning to New Zealand on Thursday to prepare a case study before reporting to UNESCO again in April. Two working parties of experts have been set up: one to look at monuments related to astronomy and the other focused on starlight reserves.
"They will define the values, set the criteria which would include the landscape, sky-scape, the clarity of the night sky, aspects of culture both tangible and intangible. About eight case studies will be included of which Tekapo will be one," Austin says.The starlight bid requires commitment from the New Zealand government, she says.
Mt. John above the Tekapo township is considered the most accessible observatory in the world, Austin says. The bid comes during the 2009 International Year of Astronomy. Starlight Reserve committee spokesman Graeme Murray says many places overseas have lost touch with stars but the Mackenzie Country still has a pristine dark sky.
The reserve would ensure New Zealand was kept on the astronomy and astro-tourism map. "We want to better protect one of the Mackenzie's most valuable assets, its dark, starry sky," Murray says. "The night sky above us is totally unique in this world. It's clear. It's uncluttered, there is no light pollution at the moment and it's an asset we have to strive to protect." The working party is expected to report back in April 2010.