The Pacific island nation of Niue has made history as the first designated dark sky nation on Earth. Through the work of the International Dark-Sky Association, the government of Niue, and countless other individuals, Niue underwent a rigorous application process while its approximately 1,600 residents made changes to their lifestyles to promote the dark sky sanctuary.
Niue is a small island nation located near Tonga, Samoa, and the Cook Islands. Accessible via a flight from Auckland, New Zealand, Niue straddles the line between being remote and still managing to attract visitors from around the world. The government and residents of Niue hope that being a dark sky sanctuary will only strengthen their position as an incredibly unique eco-tourism location for travelers looking to get off the beaten path.
Dark Sky Places
Niue is the first nation to entirely protect access to unobstructed night sky views. The island combined its Dark Sky Community space, which covered the areas of the villages Hakupu and Mutalau, as well as the Dark Sky Sanctuary that made up 75% of the entire island. Together, these two areas and other environmental conservation efforts made it possible for Niue to apply to be a Dark Sky Nation through the International Dark-Sky Association.
Residents of Niue were able to replace residential and commercial sources of light with LED bulbs that minimized light pollution. Warm-white or filtered LED lights limit the artificial glow that other lightbulbs can project into the sky. Existing roads in remote areas of the island as well as viewing platforms used for other forms of ecotourism have quickly allowed Niue to become a world-class destination for night sky viewing.
The Effects of Light Pollution
We’ve all seen the effects of light pollution– so much so that we may not even realize it. Even those of us who have access to rural spaces may never have truly seen the night sky in its unfiltered, raw state. Light pollution not only affects how we live as humans, but also has an impact on the natural world around us. Animals and plants can all have their health, habitats and behaviors altered by artificial lights.
Over 100 areas have been designated as dark sky spaces since the 1980s. Increasing efforts are being made to preserve the night sky, allowing people to access the astonishing views that have been hidden from us because of light pollution.
The Future of Dark Skies
One of the many reasons that the island of Niue took up the dark sky banner was to preserve aspects of their cultural heritage. As a remote Pacific island, observing the stars took on a central role in marking the passing of time, in accurate navigation, and evolved into a celebration of nature and its many wonders. Elders in the community hope that growing up with the night sky visible above them will instill a passion for the Niuean culture in younger generations, allowing them to explore their own heritage and share it with visitors.
In addition to protecting the night skies, Niue also hosts a marine reserve and the Huvalu Forest Conservation Area, which is home to many species of rare flora and fauna.
International Dark-Sky Association. Niue is World’s First Country to Become a Dark Sky Place. 7 March 2020. Retrieved from https://www.darksky.org/niue-is-worlds-first-country-to-become-a-dark-sky-place/
Hansen, Kathryn. Nice and Dark in Niue. 5 November 2019. Retrieved from https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/146573/nice-and-dark-in-niue