Great Barrier's 'exceptional' starry nights recognised with Dark Sky Sanctuary status
An off-the-grid Auckland island has been named an International Dark Sky Sanctuary – the first island in the world to receive that status.
Great Barrier Island, about 100km northeast of Auckland's CBD, received the honour from the International Dark-Sky Association.
The association deemed the isolated island as having an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights.
Before granting the status, the association scientifically measured the darkness of the island's sky and outdoor lighting standards.
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Much of Great Barrier Island is 'off the grid' and about 950 residents live without reticulated power.
There are no traffic lights, supermarkets or ATMs, meaning there is little light pollution.
Many residents run their homes on solar power and use wood burners or stoves for heat.
The community's focus on protecting and preserving the island's natural beauty made it the "ideal" location to receive International Dark Sky Sanctuary status, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said.
"Great Barrier Island is a place of rugged beauty and untouched wilderness, and is one of the most tranquil and unspoilt places in the wider Auckland region."
The island is the third place in the world to be designated a sanctuary. The other two sanctuaries are in New Mexico and Chile.
Application for the status was lodged by the Great Barrier Local Board with support from local and central government, iwi and the Auckland Astronomical Society.
Local board chairwoman Izzy Fordham said the status was "reserved for the most isolated and dark locations in the world".
She hoped it would provide more eco-tourism opportunities for the island and "ensure the preservation of our exceptional starry skies".
Great Barrier residents Gendie and Richard Somerville-Ryan worked with Auckland astronomer Nalayini Davies to gather the evidence needed to gain the status.
They took the first set of measurements in September 2016.
"Our measurements showed what we had all suspected – the Great Barrier Island skies are as good as it gets," they said.
"Achieving this status will protect the island's night skies and bring the island to the notice of astro-photography enthusiasts from around the world."
A sanctuary differs from a Dark Sky Park or Reserve in that it is typically in a very remote location, with few, if any, nearby threats to the quality of its dark night skies.