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Dark Skies, Bright Future

October 14, 2019 October 2019 No Comments

Most of the population of planet earth live under a cloud of light pollution which prevents them being able to see the stars as we do in Martinborough where very child can see the Milky Way from their back garden. This is something that we all take for granted, but this won’t be the case for our children’s children unless we choose to preserve this.

The campaign to win the highest and most prestigious International Dark Sky Reserve certification is well under way.   The 3 mayors are on board and the Provincial Growth Fund has made a grant to allow an economic report to be prepared.   The Wairarapa Dark Sky Association recently held a public meeting at the Waihinga Centre to introduce the team who will prepare the report, and outline the steps left to achieve this certification and realise the benefits.

The economic report is being independently developed by Jarvis McDonald Group and will look at the economic, social and environmental benefits and impacts to the region. This will inform the community, local businesses and council on what the opportunity represents, and allow the community to make an informed decision on how to best take advantage of this opportunity.

There are only 13 International Dark Sky Reserves in the world and Wairarapa’s would become the largest (6,000+sq.km).  Ours will also be by far the most accessible, reducing the carbon footprint of visitors who travel here to see it.

Evidence from other dark sky areas shows tourism could boom, especially in the winter months, which are the best time for stargazing.   This would help offset the usual slowdown at that time of year and rebalance the economy.  Existing astronomically oriented activities such as Stonehenge and Under the Stars are already well prepared to benefit, but this is just the start.

New businesses like Maori, Health and Eco-tourism are already on the way.  A move to warmer lighting, as part of Dark Sky requirements, would also benefit animals, birds, insects (and humans) who are all negatively affected by modern blue spectrum lighting.  The Wairarapa will become internationally famous for native wildlife preservation and human health protection. This will help set up the Wairarapa economy for the future.

A pure tourism approach is not without its downsides and Tekapo, already a dark sky reserve, is a case study in what not to do. It has become a mass tourism destination with overcrowding, inconvenience for residents and overloading for local businesses.  Avoiding these consequences will be an important part of the economic plan, as will protection of local Toanga. 

The authors’ of the report are keen to know your thoughts on these issues so they have set up an online survey. Just go to http://wairarapadarksky.org and fill in the public survey. History has shown that those organisations which engage early benefit the most, so make your voice heard, now!

When the report is completed later this year it will be presented to the three Wairarapa Councils, as well as the public so we can all see the potential and determine if we want to support the district plan change to support certification. With this in place the application can finally be made to the International Dark Sky Association for accreditation. 

If you want further information you can email the Wairarapa Dark Sky Association chairman at lee@martinboroughdarksky.org

Chris Cassels

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