Southwest Kerry to receive rare ‘dark sky reserve’ status
Designation by International Dark-Sky Association may lead to astro-tourism boom for region as an exceptional location for star gazing
The Milky Way galaxy, as seen from a very dark site. The night sky in southwest Kerry offers an array of visible phenomena including the above, zodiacal light and faint meteors. Photograph: Babek Tafreshi/SSPL/Getty Images
A 700sq km area in southwest Kerry is expected to be named an international “dark sky reserve”, securing the highest designation for the exceptional quality of its night sky.
It will be the first region in Ireland to receive such an award and – if it achieves “gold-tier” reserve status – the first region in the northern hemisphere to get this designation, spawning hopes for an astro-tourism spin-off.
Astronomers and senior council officials are gathering in Cahersiveen this evening to await the announcement from the US-based International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) in Arizona, which was set up in 1988 to protect and raise awareness of the night sky.
Now a global movement, it has gathered information on how light pollution at night affects aesthetics, energy bills, animal welfare and human health.
The association works closely with ecologists to minimise the impact of artificial lighting on wild areas and has worked to achieve awareness of human health implications, particularly in the US.
Southwest Kerry, sandwiched between mountains and the sea, and including Kells, Foilmore, Cahersiveen, Portmagee, Valentia Island, Dromid, the Glen, Ballinskelligs, Waterville, Derrynane and Caherdaniel, is regarded as an exceptional nocturnal location, with minimal pollution and of great scientific interest.
It offers an array of visible phenomena including the Milky Way, zodiacal light and faint meteors.
A campaign instigated by the Kerry Astronomy Club’s Julia Ormonde, raised awareness of light pollution in the area and planning applications have been monitored to protect the night sky.
While there are a number of certified dark sky parks, only six locations worldwide have been given the higher distinction of international dark sky reserves. Only two gold-tier reserves have been awarded: the Aoraki Mackenzie (New Zealand) and Namib- Rand Nature Reserve (Namibia, Africa). The UK has a small number of designated dark sky parks and two silver standard reserves and France has one silver standard reserve.
The South Kerry Astronomy Group began to look into the possibility of getting accreditation from the International Dark-Sky Association, and a dark-sky group was formed of stargazers and business interests led by Ms Ormonde.