This Entire Island Nation Is the World's First 'Dark Sky Sanctuary'

Daisy Hernandez
Photo credit: Haitong Yu - Getty Images

From Popular Mechanics

  • The island nation of Niue has been officially designated an International Dark Sky Association (IDA) Sanctuary.
  • This new status is geared towards preventing light pollution from intervening with stargazing and plays a role in the preservation of Niuean culture.

The tiny island of Niue in the South Pacific is easy to miss on a map. It's one of the world’s smallest countries and also one of the largest raised coral atolls on Earth. But now it holds an honorable distinction unlike any other nation—it's the world's first accredited 'dark sky sanctuary.'

In a news release, the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) shared that Niue underwent a “rigorous application and approval process,” in order to become an IDA Sanctuary and Community and that the entire country is now a protected ‘dark sky nation.’

This is an important designation because it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find places that remain untouched by light pollution. A 2019 paper published in the Journal of Environmental Management says that “light pollution is a worldwide problem that has a range of adverse effects on human health and natural ecosystems.”

This includes interrupting bird migration patterns and making it difficult to study the stars. And now, it’s not just Earth-bound light pollution we have to worry about—satellites in orbit are making it increasingly difficult to stargaze because they also emit light as they make their way through space.

Niue’s road to becoming an IDA Sanctuary took the whole country, a population stretching to only 1,600 people. Niue Tourism proposed the idea and received the support of the country’s government and community. Per the news release, “some of the significant measures undertaken by the government include full streetlight replacement for the entire island and the upgrading of domestic private lighting.”

Another reason Niue is excited to be an IDA dark sky nation? The cosmos, lunar cycles, and star positions are a part of Niuean culture. Niuean elder, Misa Kalutea, says that her country’s skies “have been observed and appreciated for centuries. The dark sky nation status adds new emphasis to the importance of our traditional knowledge, providing a reason for the retelling and sharing of [it] before it is lost.”

It’s also expected that this designation will prove to be an economic asset, too, bringing in people interested in “astro-tourism.”

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