23 July 2010
New Zealand’s Governor General, Margaret Austin, and two Department of Conservation delegates will attend a UNESCO meeting in Brazil from 25 July to 03 August to persuade the committee to approve a study, which argues stars and planets are a common cultural resource to natural heritage, which is the next step in a lengthy process to protect the world’s nights skies.
The process, which began five years ago, involves having the science of astronomy added to the world heritage status for monuments, sites, landscapes and cultural landscapes.
If the committee approves the study, New Zealand can begin preparing its case to have the skies above Tekapo and Mt John in the McKenzie District to become a ‘starlight reserve’.
Margaret Austin said: "It is a long, long process and we have to follow procedures. This session in Brazil is absolutely critical in the way forward but it is the first step. Make no mistake, securing world heritage for our Starlight Reserve is enormously significant, prestigious and worth pursuing. There is no question about the international interest in this."
The Governor General said there would be significant advantages for tourism, education, research and the local economy.
"Without doubt the Mackenzie District has great potential with its landscape features, botanical biodiversity, and scientific research at the University of Canterbury Observatory. In addition Māori navigation by the stars and determination of the seasons are important customs," Austin said.
The Lake Tekapo Starlight Reserve Working Party says few places remain in the world where people can enjoy the stars pollution free.
"It is the responsibility of countries like New Zealand who can still enjoy their night skies to protect them from pollution," says Austin.
"Fifty percent of the world’s people no longer see the stars, those places that do, have got a responsibility to preserve them. We are losing our opportunity to observe our night sky."
Mount John Observatory above Lake Tekapo is the heart of research astronomy in New Zealand and increasingly attracts tourists to enjoy its clear view into the stars.
"Standing up here you really feel like you’re on top of the world. Mount John Observatory is one of the most accessible and with 70% cloud free nights and almost no light pollution it makes it an ideal candidate for world heritage status," Margaret Munro of Earth and Sky says.
The spot was popular because there were a limited number of places like it around the world, she said.
"Some people are reduced to tears, they find it such a spiritual thing to see the stars."