Astronomers push for step up in status
No time is being wasted in efforts to secure world heritage site protection for the night skies above the Mackenzie Basin.
Hot on the heels of their Aoraki-Mackenzie Dark-Sky Reserve triumph, backers have begun expanding their case for a bigger step – an application to the world heritage committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).
Flush with success, 18 delegates from the third International Starlight Conference met last week in Mt Cook Village for a two-day workshop.
The group, led by conference organisers John Hearnshaw, of Canterbury University, and dark-sky working party chairwoman and former Labour Cabinet minister Margaret Austin, discussed extended case studies to go to the International Astronomical Union (IAU), including the Tekapo-Mackenzie Basin.
Austin said to go the next step the area's dark-sky assets had to be broadened and put in context with landscape and cultural connections.
"We are in an advantageous position with work already done," she said.
"But we have to make a real deal more of the geology and the geography, particularly the outstanding features of the landscape, the glaciated valleys, the braided-river systems and also the ecology.
"We have quite a significant number of endangered species being quite deliberately bred in captivity and released so the populations are maintained.
"So there's no question about broadening it. In order to get through to Unesco world heritage, we have to do that."
The connections between Maori and the stars and the way they were used for navigation across the Mackenzie Country would also form part of the application, Austin said.
Case studies on Chile's Aura Observatory, the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii and the Canarian observatories had been rolled into one and combined with the two studies of places with special landscape qualities, at Tekapo and the Eastern Alpine Starlight Reserve and Grossmugl Starlight Oasis in Austria.
That joint "windows to the universe" case study would accompany five others going to the next triennial meeting of the IAU, she said.
"It puts great pressure on to get revision of these done by July 20. It's their [IAU] endorsement we want to be able to take to the world heritage [committee]. It gives us leverage," she said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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