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Martinborough Dark Sky Reserve

December 19, 2017 December 2017 No Comments

Photo courtesy Mark Gee

In less than two months Martinborough’s Dark Sky Reserve group has chalked up near speed-of-light progress toward registering as one of the world’s few places with special dark sky recognition.

Already major steps have been promoted by Viv Napier and endorsed by South Wairarapa District Council to adapt the street lighting plans to specify new LED lighting which meets the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) requirements for 3000 Kelvin Street lights have a warmer hue than the harsher white 4000 Kelvin lights which were planned previously.

This will enable Martinborough to have the best of both worlds, more efficient LED lighting and to protect our dark skies (and health) from light pollution.

The new street lighting plan will include all the Wairarapa towns to give them the option to join the Dark Sky Reserve if their local community is supportive.

There is still one hitch, with NZTA (New Zealand Transport Authority) which controls the lighting of state highways – notably SH53 (Martinborough-Featherston) and SH2 (Featherston-Masterton) still has to commit to the 3000 Kelvin standard lights . The 4000 Kelvin lights proposed by NZTA have a significant proportion of ‘blue light’ included which scatters widely in the night sky causing light pollution – and has even recently been linked to health impacts on both humans and animals by disrupting circadian rhythms.

Current NZTA highway light systems are traditional high pressure sodium lights which give that familiar night time warm glow. These existing lights are below 3000 Kelvin and they would comply with the IDA requirements for ‘3K or below’, making the proposed replacement with 4000 Kelvin lights a huge step backwards.

Plans to install these new 4000 Kelvin LED lights are steaming ahead, with an install date of July-August being planned. This single issue is becoming the major stumbling block to the Dark Sky Reserve.

So far all other feedback from the region and further afield has been wholly supportive and positive.  Already at least four local individuals and groups have advised that seven night sky telescope domes (with telescopes) should be operating around Martinborough within a year.
McKenzie region Mayor Graham Smith has advised that 40% of his region’s 2.5 million annual tourists visit the area for its dark sky experience in the township of Tekapo and nearby Mt John Observatory.  He also suggested the two regions develop a close working relationship to further develop international tourism opportunities.

On the international front,  the Seigneur (Lord) of Sark, traditionally the representative of Queen Elizabeth II on the Channel island of Sark (the world’s first Dark Sky Island) has invited one of the Martinborough committee to meet with him next month to explore joint promotional and other ideas.

Dark Sky Reserve committee members are engaged with the Department of  Conservation (DOC) in the hope of making the Aorangi Forest Park to the south of Martinborough the “dark heart” of the DSR _ which they hope will stretch from Martinborough to the south coast/Cape Palliser.

Astronomers from the Wellington and Wairarapa Astronomy Societies have held an initial public telescope viewing of the night sky _ the rings of Saturn were stunning _  and a science outreach programme connected to the Space & Science Festival has held a first display at Martinborough School.

The Martinborough Business Association has greeted the proposed reserve with enthusiasm. Local Iwi Ngati Kuhungunu has given an initial positive response to the proposal and has undertaken to discuss an appropriate name for the reserve. The Wellington Regional Economic Development  Agency is also working on an assessment of the benefits a DSR will likely provide for the region

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