The little town of Tekapo, New Zealand (pop. 830) is fighting to preserve the night sky.
In 1965, officials of this pristine lakeside town recognized the importance of protecting the skies around the nearby Mount John Observatory and began putting controls on outdoor illumination. According to an AP report, the ordinances require that, “low-energy sodium lamps are shielded from above, and household lights must face down, not up.”
Their goal? To obtain designation from UNESCO designation as the world’s first starlight reserve. Currently, none of UNESCO’s world heritage sites include the sky.
Tekapo’s efforts to preserve dark skies has begun to generate “astro tourists,” people in search of the experience of seeing stars under genuinely dark skies. Current estimates suggest that more than 2/3 of Americans are unable to see the Milky Way from their homes as a result of careless outdoor lighting and over-illumination - itself responsible for approximately two million barrels of oil per day in energy wasted. In Europe, there are almost no places left where the sky reaches its natural darkness.