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Kūaotunu prepares plan for ‘Dark Sky’ status

Waikato Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 11 Mar 2024, 12:40PM
A Dark Sky community is in the works for Kūaotunu. Photo / NZME
A Dark Sky community is in the works for Kūaotunu. Photo / NZME

Kūaotunu prepares plan for ‘Dark Sky’ status

Waikato Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 11 Mar 2024, 12:40PM

Starry nights on the Kūaotunu peninsula are a step closer to being protected with the Biosphere Dark Sky Project submitting a plan change to the Thames-Coromandel District Council.

The project aimed to preserve the darkness of the sky north of Whitianga, by putting in place policies to prevent light pollution.

It has already received funding through regional tourism organisation Destination Hauraki Coromandel, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and has submitted a draft plan change proposal to the Thames-Coromandel District Council.

Kūaotunu Dark Sky Trust chairman Paul Cook said they were working through a few minor changes before the application was heard.

“We are also building our application to DarkSky International (DSI) with the support of their nominated representative, and this will be ready by the time the plan change process is complete, there will be a period required for consultation with affected parties, which we anticipate will be straight forward as there has been extensive communication with all affected parties through the process,” he said.

“We have carried out an effective communication campaign with a combination of email and paper flyers, social media group, website, and most importantly a series of public events, which have been very well supported.”

Cook said the group had been assisted in the plan change process by Debbie Donaldson from Kāhu Consultants, who had also worked with Wairapa and Carterton councils on the establishment of a Dark Sky area.

According to DSI, Dark Sky areas protect ecologically sensitive areas and universal heritage in the starry night sky.

Certified areas are required to use quality outdoor lighting, effective policies to reduce light pollution, ongoing stewardship practices, and more.

Cook said Kūaotunu Dark Sky Trust was formally established in May 2023 and registered as a charitable trust in September 2023.

“The group arose from the Kūaotunu Biosphere Working Group which had protection of the Dark Sky as one of its six ‘pillars’, but also built on work done by astronomer Alastair Brickell and others promoting the concept over many years.”

The night skies north of Whitianga are particularly black, one of the reasons Brickell set up his observatory there as Stargazers B&B and Astronomy Tours, and why the European Space Agency (ESA) approached him seeking to site one of their robotic telescopes within the proposed Dark Sky zone.

That telescope would form part of a worldwide collaboration looking for space junk and potentially hazardous asteroids.

Cook said multiple people were behind the project.

“I am on the board of the Kūaotunu Biosphere Working Group, based mainly on my involvement over many years with the Ōpito Bay Ratepayers Association. Others are involved through their involvement in astro tourism, their significant experience as amateur astronomers, and their involvement in broader tourism activities across the Coromandel.”

Discussions with the certifying organisation DSI (previously known as International Dark Sky Association) were initiated three years ago, to understand the opportunity for the peninsula and the conditions to be met, he said.

The Biosphere Working Group then became involved, and a group formed to progress the idea.

There were a number of streams to the activities since then, mainly based on developing a proposed district plan change, which when adopted, would ensure outdoor and public lighting regulations meet the standards set by DSI, building support and awareness in the communities directly and indirectly affected, and progressing a formal application for recognition as a Dark Sky community.


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