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New Zealand Night Sky Enthusiasts Protect the Dark

Views of the night sky over the city of Martinborough, New Zealand. Photos by Lee Mauger.

Martinborough, New Zealand, is highly regarded internationally for producing fine wines, olive oil and food within a rural environment of outstanding natural beauty. For some time, the community has enjoyed breathtakingly clear views of the night sky on its doorstep and an abundance of wildlife and birds which thrive without light pollution. The stunning night skies above Martinborough have attracted local astronomers and astrophotographers, including international award-winning astrophotographer Mark Gee.

“The Martinborough area was where I first honed my skills as an astrophotographer, and on a clear night the clarity in the night sky is incredible!” Gee said. “During my travels around the world, I haven’t found too many dark sky locations which come close to what Martinborough has to offer,” Gee said.

Martinborough’s dark night skies came under threat when, in 2017, the Town planned to replace all existing sodium street lights with white LED lights at a color temperature of 4,000 Kelvins. Members of the Martinborough Dark Sky Society were alarmed about the potential 4000K street lights, which would emit bright, white lights with considerable glare. The lights would also potentially create new light pollution, adversely affecting the clear views of the night sky and harming local wildlife.

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) works to protect the natural nighttime environment through conservation, awareness and education, and the promotion of environmentally responsible lighting products. IDA recommends LED streetlights with a color temperature of 3,000 Kelvins or less. These lower color temperature lights, when fully shielded to prevent upward light emission, minimize light pollution and are warm, inviting, and well able to safely and effectively serve the needs of municipal communities.

With IDA’s recommendation, the district council and Martinborough Dark Sky Society were able to galvanize the community and convince central government agencies to adopt IDA’s 3000K recommendation and alter their street and highway lighting plans.

“Martinborough has a close community who respect and appreciate the beautiful natural environment we are fortunate to live in,” explained Vivien Napier, Mayor of South Wairarapa. “I had no hesitation in supporting the Martinborough Dark Sky Society’s work to protect our stunning dark skies for future generations.”

IDA’s “3000K or Less” promotion provided a vital external and international knowledge base to help counter an imminent increase in light pollution which would have been difficult to reverse.

Thanks to the Martinborough Dark Sky Society and the International Dark-Sky Association, the town’s natural beauty will be preserved long into the future. Lee Mauger, Chairman of the Martinborough Dark Sky Society, points to IDA’s influence in helping influence the town’s decision-making process: “The Martinborough Dark Sky Society would like to thank the IDA and recognize how powerful the IDA’s ‘3K City’ scheme was in helping us justify change in the street lighting plans for our region.”

The Martinborough Dark Sky Society, in Martinborough, New Zealand, is a community initiative to protect and enhance the beautiful dark skies and natural wildlife habitats of the area. As a part of their night sky conservation efforts, the Society is working toward the certification of a 1500+ square kilometer area recognized as an International Dark Sky Reserve by the International Dark-Sky Association.