Community celebrates island’s new International Dark Sky Sanctuary status.

Hundreds turned out from the Great Barrier Island community to celebrate the island’s new international Dark Sky Sanctuary status on Saturday.

Great Barrier Island, located around 90 kilometres north-east of central Auckland, is the first island in the world to be designated a sanctuary by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), and one of only three others in the world with the status.

Designations are based on scientifically measured darkness of sky as well as stringent outdoor lighting standards and community outreach – and with no electricity on the island, light pollution is minimised allowing for spectacular star gazing.

IDA Programme Manager John Barentine says: “Great Barrier Island is very nearly everything we might want in a Sanctuary: a land largely insulated from the pressures of modern society where people live “off the grid”, finding both great meaning in the slow pace of life there as well as treasures among its various natural resources.

“External recognition of the island’s dark nights, full of the wonder that must have confronted both its Māori and European settlers, is a validation of the efforts undertaken by many people, both island residents and their counterparts on the mainland, to highlight the fragility of Great Barrier’s natural darkness.” 

Mayor Phil Goff and Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye, along with other dignitaries joined around 250 local residents for the official launch which was coordinated by Great Barrier Local Board.

“The Great Barrier community has thrown their weight behind this project and once again shown their commitment to Great Barrier’s long-term conservation,” says Mayor Goff during his speech.

“Their hard work has brought us together to celebrate a great moment in Auckland’s history and a new milestone in the effort to protect and conserve Great Barrier’s natural beauty for future generations to enjoy.”

Great Barrier Local Board Chair Izzy Fordham had a long list of acknowledgements to those who supported the island’s application to become the Aotea/Great Barrier Island International Dark Sky Sanctuary, and a book ‘Sanctuary’ has even been produced chronicling the journey to date.

“We’ve had incredible support from the community along the way and so many others who have got behind this,” says Izzy Fordham.

“Sanctuary status is reserved for the most isolated, and dark locations in the word and this designation is specifically designed to increase awareness of fragile sites and promote their long-term conservation. We know achieving this sanctuary status will protect our dark sky for the generations to come.”

Local residents and dark sky enthusiasts, Gendie and Richard Somerville-Ryan, worked with Auckland astronomer, Nalayini Davies, to gather the evidence required to support the application, and were also a key part of the launch event proceedings. Each sharing some of their story to get the application together.

“We had the right place for it, a remote, pristine environment, that’s off the grid. It was the right time for us to ensure we protected the dark sky, and we had the right people,” says Richard.

“When we asked how many people were interested in learning more about the dark sky and becoming ambassadors, 90 people put their hand up – that’s 10 per cent of the island.”

There are now 20 Dark Sky ambassadors on the island ready to share with visitors the island’s story and history of the starry nights, with more training scheduled for others in the coming months.

Anika Forsman
Senior Communications Advisor
Contact Anika