Bid to secure Tekapo as a world night sky reserve

Published: Sun 25 Jan 2009 01:21 PM
Media release – January 24, 2009
NZ bid to secure Tekapo as a world night sky reserve needs to move fast with government support
New Zealand’s starlight reserve bid – one of eight world-wide night heritage site bids – has just a few months to prepare a case study before reporting to UNESCO again in April,  former Cabinet member Margaret Austin said today.
Austin is chairperson of New Zealand's Starlight Reserve committee - which includes Professor John Hearnshaw of Canterbury University and Tekapo project driving force Graeme Murray. She returns from Paris next Thursday to begin preparing the Tekapo case study.
The New Zealand bid to preserve the dark night sky for the Mt John observatory above Lake Tekapo needs to move swiftly so it can table its case study to at the UNESCO world heritage site working party in April. The key to the Kiwi proposal was Austin’s presentation in Paris.
``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 said from Paris today.
``Interestingly two speakers referred to Tekapo and showed images besides myself so that was pleasing.  Our concept document is now regarded as the reference paper. Two working parties of experts have been set up:  one to look at monuments related to astronomy and the other 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.
``This requires government commitment at the NZ end and I will be endeavouring to get this when I return on January 29. The working party is expected to report in April 2010. Clearly the timeframe is longer than we expected but UNESCO must ensure that its processes and protocols are adhered to at each step.’’
Austin said she was satisfied that the Tekapo starlight reserve bid has achieved considerable clarity as a result of delivering in Paris and her Tekapo group must now set about to draft the case study for inclusion in the work of the working party looking at all world starlight reserves’
Austin said half the people of the world at present could not see the stars because of night light pollution.
With Tekapo by-laws already in place and monitoring the effects on the night sky of further development are not expected to impact on the quality of the night sky which will allow for astro-tourism to fully develop in the area. Already there are about 1.4 million people through Tekapo annually.
Mt John above the Tekapo township is considered the most accessible observatory 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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