2010 - pivotal to secure world night sky reserve

Published: Fri 18 Dec 2009 02:42 PM
                                            Media release – December 18, 2009
2010 - pivotal in seeking to secure world night sky reserve for New Zealand
Next year is pivotal to the success of New Zealand seeking a world heritage night sky reserve for Tekapo Aoraki-Mt Cook.
A UNESCO World Heritage meeting in Brasilia in June will be crucial to New Zealand’s chances, leader of the Working party bid former Cabinet minister Margaret Austin says.
``We are launching a nationwide campaign in the lead up to the Brasilia conference next year, so we can tell the public people this project has real and exciting potential particularly in the lead up to the Brasilia conference.’’
Austin says there has been a reluctance to acknowledge that the stars and starlight are significant to human heritage under UNESCO conventions.  But there is a groundswell of public concern at the extent to which people no longer see the stars in so many parts of the world and we need a source of income to achieve our goal of world heritage and international support.
The key milestone this year was getting the Tekapo Aoraki/Mt Cook starlight reserve working party up and running so the bid could demonstrate their commitment to the project. With the backing of the Mackenzie District Council there is a belief that astro-tourism, education and awareness of the significance of the dark sky and appreciation of the cultural history for Maori can be realised in the next few years.
At the start of the year the NZ project was warmly received by the International Year of Astronomy symposium in Paris and they were invited to present a case study at Spain’s Fuerteventura in March. This was followed by another UNESCO world heritage committee meeting on La Palma in November. Five sites were chosen as exemplars: Tekapo Aoraki/Mt Cook, Austria, La Palma, Chile and Hawaii.
``The end of 2009 sees us in a position of almost ready to present proposals to the World Heritage Committee at its meeting in Brasilia in 2010. We have almost achieved step one. We will strongly push our case next year to the WHC Committee, our Government and Canterbury University.
``In our favour, we have ease of accessibility, lighting ordinances already in place but it is critical to have the endorsement of the Government before the Brasilia meeting in June ...’’
Recognition by the World Heritage Committee will put the Tekapo Aoraki/Mt Cook Starlight Reserve onto the international radar which has great impact on tourism bringing people to NZ and the region to view the stars. The potential to increase foreign exchange earnings through capitalising on night tourism as well as daytime activities is very great.
Lake Tekapo is a superb site with a pristine dark southern sky and views of the centre of the Milky Way galaxy and the Magellanic clouds, sites unknown in Europe.
The Tekapo/Mt Cook area has exceptional unpolluted skies with very low light pollution because of the lighting ordinances which are nearly 30 years old.
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.

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