The Pacific island of Niue is the world’s first whole country to become a dark sky nation. Dark skies allow people to get a clear, unpolluted view of the stars, and they are rare because 80% of Earth’s land mass suffers from light pollution.
Niue is the world’s smallest independent nation with a population of just over 1600 people, and it sits in the middle of the triangle formed by Samoa, Tonga and the Cook Islands. It has now received formal accreditation from the International Dark-Sky Association as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary and International Dark Sky Community.
Niue has undertaken significant measures to achieve this status, including full street-light replacements for the entire island and the upgrading of domestic private lighting. It now has formal protection for its sky, land and sea with the IDA International Dark Sky designations adding to the existing measures. These include a marine reserve which encompasses 40% of Niue's exclusive economic zone, and the Huvalu Forest Conservation Area which contains some of the most threatened flora and fauna in the world.
Niueans have a long history of star navigation and a life regulated by lunar cycles and star positions. The knowledge of the night skies, held by the elders in the community, has been passed down through the generations. The elders now hope the passion to learn the cultural history of the stars is reignited in younger generations. "Being a dark sky nation will help protect Niue’s night skies for future generations of Niueans and visitors to the country," says Felicity Bollen, CEO of Niue Tourism.
Viewing sites that are currently used for whale-watching and accessing the sea are already established on the island. In addition, the dark interior provides spectacular views of the sky and the roads that cross the island make ideal viewing locations. "Visitors will be able to enjoy guided astro-tours led by trained Niuean community members," says Felicity. "They will witness the wonder of a night sky illuminated by thousands of stars."