Stewart Island/Rakiura has long been renowned for the quality of its night sky and as a result has become the fifth Dark Sky Sanctuary in the world.
Venture Southland, alongside an independent consultant and the Stewart Island Promotion Association, helped to prepare the successful application to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) for the establishment of the International Dark Sky Sanctuary on the Island.
An IDA Dark Sky Sanctuary (DSS) is a public or private land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, or educational value, its cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment. A Dark Sky Sanctuary differs from a Dark Sky Park or Reserve in that it is typically situated in a very remote location. The isolation of a sanctuary limits the opportunities for public outreach, and therefore increases awareness of these fragile sites and promotes their long-term conservation
International Dark Sky Association
The successful accreditation, which makes Stewart Island/Rakiura only the second island sanctuary in the world, was unanimously endorsed by the IDA Board in January 2019.
The process to becoming accredited
The process to becoming accredited involved a collaborative effort between Southland District Council, Department of Conservation, Stewart Island/Rakiura Community Board, Venture Southland, Rakiura Maori Lands Trust, iwi and the Stewart Island Promotion Association, and included Venture Southland undertaking a quality assessment of the Rakiura night skies, identifying community support for the proposed Sanctuary and the preparation of the application to the IDA.
Night Sky Quality Assessment
Venture Southland commissioned an assessment of the Stewart Island/Rakiura night sky in 2017. The results confirmed the potential for the Island to be internationally recognised as a place of outstanding sky quality by achieving the levels required to be classified as a Dark Sky Sanctuary.
Following the favourable results of the assessment, a community survey was undertaken in partnership with the Stewart Island Promotion Association to identify community support of the project.
The survey showed strong support for the creation of an internationally recognised Dark Sky Sanctuary, with 92 per cent of respondents supportive of the Island gaining accreditation. Survey participants identified perceived benefits around tourism, night sky preservation, environmental protection, and provided a strong case to continue pursuing official accreditation for the island.
The application to the IDA was prepared by Venture Southland in conjunction with an independent consultant and Stewart Island Promotion Association and included a required Lightscape Management Plan, details of community support, key geographical information about Stewart Island/Rakiura and the benefits sanctuary status would bring to the island.
Lightscape Management plan & Implementation
This lightscape management plan included:
- Immediate actions for existing lighting to mitigate effects
- Evidence that two-thirds of the existing outdoor lighting fixtures could conform to the requirements.
- Plans to bring 90% of lighting into line with International Dark Sky Association requirements within the next 5 years and 100% of lighting to this level within the next 10 years.
As part of this process, all lighting on the island will be assessed with recommendations for improvement made where necessary.
The application was unanimously endorsed by the IDA board and a Memorandum of Understanding between key parties has been established to demonstrate unified commitment and support for the success of the Sanctuary, and outline key responsibilities.