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Great Barrier celebrates dark sky sanctuary

Published: 21 August 2017

Hundreds of people turned out from the Great Barrier Island community to celebrate the island’s new international Dark Sky Sanctuary status on Saturday 19 August.

Great Barrier Island is the first island in the world to be designated a sanctuary by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), and one of only three others in the world with the status.

WATCH: Incredible time-lapse of Great Barrier's spectacular night sky

Spectacular star-gazing conditions

Designations are based on scientifically measured darkness of sky as well as stringent outdoor lighting standards and community outreach. As there is no electricity on Great Barrier, light pollution is minimal, which creates spectacular conditions for star gazing.

IDA Programme Manager John Barentine says, “External recognition of Great Barrier Island’s dark nights, full of the wonder that must have confronted both its Māori and European settlers, is a validation of the efforts undertaken by many people, both island residents and their counterparts on the mainland, to highlight the fragility of the island’s natural darkness.” 

Sanctuary shows commitment to conservation 

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye joined 250 local residents and other dignitaries for the official launch, which was coordinated by Great Barrier Local Board.

“The Great Barrier community has thrown their weight behind this project and once again shown their commitment to Great Barrier’s long-term conservation,” says Mayor Goff.

Auckland astronomer, locals work on project

Local residents and dark-sky enthusiasts Gendie and Richard Somerville-Ryan worked with Auckland astronomer Nalayini Davies to gather the evidence required to support the application.

“We had the right place for it: a remote, pristine environment, that’s off the grid,” says Richard.

“It was the right time for us to ensure we protected the dark sky, and we had the right people.”

“When we asked how many people were interested in learning more about the dark sky and becoming ambassadors, 90 people put their hand up – that’s 10 per cent of the island.”

There are now 20 dark-sky ambassadors on the island ready to share with visitors the island’s story and history of the starry nights, with more training scheduled for others in the coming months.