South Burnett night skies are gold for astro-tourism.
South Burnett night skies are gold for astro-tourism. James Barclay

DARK SKIES: Are we ready for astro-tourism?

OVER the past 30 years, the non-profit International Dark Sky Association, based in Tucson, Arizona, has awarded more than 100 Dark Sky Place awards all over the world to a community, park, reserve or a sanctuary, where their night skies are not affected by light pollution - artificial light glowing skyward and "drowning out” the stars, as it is in cities, suburbs and large towns.

IDA's objective is simple: Protect what dark sky places we have left on this planet so future generations can see a starry-lit night sky.

At the rate the world's population and progress is expanding, NASA scientists, university faculties in astronomy and millions of amateur astronomers worldwide, predict by 2100, 98 per cent of the entire habitable world, will not see a single star due to heavy artificial light at night. This light will require more energy to be generated and wasted, with the cost in the billions to be borne by a tax and rate payer.

For a dark sky place to get an IDA gold, silver or bronze classification, the application must have as much information as possible, to satisfy the IDA Board of Review who will accept, reject or have it amended so it meets with their IDA standards. Once that place get its award, tourism, hospitality and astro-tourism grows. One such IDA dark sky park is the Warrumbungle National Park in NSW, who got their gold classification in July 2015.

Since then, tourism and hospitality has jumped significantly. Two others - the Aoraki-Mackenzie Mt Cook Reserve has an IDA gold award and the Aotea/Great Barrier Island Sanctuary, - also has their IDA gold level and astro-tourism, and both areas are booming.

So could it happen here in the South Burnett? Absolutely! I know of three dark sky sites that would qualify for an IDA gold award and one of them is the Bunya Mountains, which the writer, the SBRC and the WDRC are working on. It's anticipated that the Bunyas will get their gold award by mid to late 2019.

In all applications, that site has to have a sky quality meter reading, which is the starlight strength per square arc second of sky, a gold level is 21.76 or more. A silver is 20.76-21.75 and bronze is 19.76-20.75. So the darker that site is under a cloud-free, moonless night in winter, the higher the reading, and the more chance of that application scoring a higher award. The Bunya Mountains has a sky quality meter of 21.83.

One of the main sticking points of all applications is to have a working, set in concrete light management plan policy that will protect that site from any further outdoor obtrusive lighting, that will decrease the natural darkness and one's ability to see stars and to protect nocturnal animals' natural dark habitat, which is fast disappearing worldwide, due to inconsiderate outdoor lighting.

So with careful planning and the ability to curb light pollution, this will ensure that what dark sky places we have left on this planet, remain for generations.