Heritage Starlight Reserve moves closer
19 Feb 2009
New Zealand’s bid to have a World Heritage Starlight Reserve in the sky above Lake Tekapo and Aoraki Mount Cook, in the South Island’s Mackenzie Country, has moved a step closer.
As the result of a successful presentation by New Zealand Starlight Reserve Committee chairwoman Margaret Austin to a recent UNESCO conference in Paris, eight world regions - including Tekapo - have been asked to prepare preliminary case studies by the end of March 2009.
UNESCO has set up two working parties, one to look at monuments related to astronomy and the other to examine starlight reserves.
The groups will define the values and set criteria which would include the landscape and its ‘skyscape’, clarity of the night sky, aspects of culture both tangible and intangible. Once this is done a definitive case study will be called for by October 2009.
This process is required because world heritage status has only ever been granted for landscapes and monuments so the heritage starlight reserve concept breaks new ground.
New Zealand’s preliminary case study will be prepared with the help of government, regional and local bodies. Material will be collated by the Starlight Reserve Committee.
The committee consists of Mrs Austin (a former Member of Parliament), Canterbury University's Professor John Hearnshaw, and Tekapo businessman Graeme Murray, who has been the driving force behind the project.
Margaret Austin says the timeframe for a decision on the Starlight Reserve is longer than expected but UNESCO had to ensure that its processes and protocols were adhered to at each step.
Mrs Austin said the Tekapo starlight reserve concept had achieved considerable clarity as a result of her Paris presentation, and was well received particularly for its cultural significance and the Pacific peoples’ knowledge of the stars.
"Interestingly two speakers referred to Tekapo and showed images besides myself," said Austin.
Plans to pursue World Heritage status in the Tekapo region were announced in 2007.
The proposal draws on Tekapo's links with the Mt John observatory and its clear night sky. Establishing a starlight reserve will attract visitors and publicise its unique attributes.
Through the Mackenzie District Council, Tekapo already has local by-laws in place and further development is monitored to ensure it doesn’t impact on the night sky quality.
Already, about 1.4 million people visit Tekapo each year. Mt John, in the Southern Alps above the Tekapo township, is considered the most accessible observatory in the world.
The observatory is home to six telescopes including New Zealand's biggest telescope which measures 1.8m across and can observe 50 million stars each clear night.
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