A dark-sky preserve (DSP) is an area, usually surrounding a park or observatory, that restricts artificial light pollution. The purpose of the dark-sky movement is generally to promote astronomy. However, astronomy is not the only objective of conserving a dark sky. A dark night sky is associated with many facets of history, philosophy, religion, societal development, poetry, song, mathematics, and science. Different terms have been used to describe the areas as national organizations have worked independently to create their programs. The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) uses International Dark Sky Reserve (IDSR) and International Dark Sky Park (IDSP). A third designation, International Dark Sky Sanctuary, was introduced in 2015.
An International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) was founded in 1988 to reserve public or private land for an exquisite outlook of nocturnal territories and starry night skies. These reserves are specifically conserved for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and public enjoyment.
The Mont Mégantic Observatory in Quebec is the first such site to be recognized (in 2007) as an International Dark Sky Reserve. IDA recognized Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah as the world's first International Dark Sky Park. In 2015, the IDA introduced the term "Dark Sky Sanctuary" and designated the Elqui Valley of northern Chile as the world's first International Dark Sky Sanctuary. The Gabriela Mistral Dark Sky Sanctuary is named after a Chilean poet.
It is generally understood that a dark-sky preserve, or dark-sky reserve, should be sufficiently dark to promote astronomy. However, this is not always the case. The lighting protocol for a dark-sky preserve is based on the sensitivity of wildlife to artificial light at night.
Canada has established an extensive and more stringent standard for dark-sky preserves, that addresses lighting within the DSP and influences from skyglow from urban areas in the region. This was based on the work of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
Dark Sky Places
The IDA's Dark Sky Places program offers five types of designations:
- International Dark Sky Communities – Communities are legally organised cities and towns that adopt quality outdoor lighting ordinances and undertake efforts to educate residents about the importance of dark skies.
- International Dark Sky Parks – Parks are publicly or privately owned spaces protected for natural conservation that implement good outdoor lighting and provide dark sky programs for visitors.
- International Dark Sky Reserves – Reserves consist of a dark "core" zone surrounded by a populated periphery where policy controls are enacted to protect the darkness of the core.
- International Dark Sky Sanctuaries – Sanctuaries are the most remote (and often darkest) places in the world whose conservation state is most fragile.
- Dark Sky Developments of Distinction – Developments of Distinction recognize subdivisions, master planned communities, and unincorporated neighborhoods and townships whose planning actively promotes a more natural night sky but does not qualify them for the International Dark Sky Community designation. (This designation was retired in 2020).
Further designations include "Dark Sky Nation", given to the Kaibab Indian Reservation, and "Parashant International Night Sky Province-Window to the Cosmos", given to Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument.
Dark sky preserves, reserves and parks
As of January 2023, there were 201 certified Dark Sky Places globally: 38 Communities, 115 Parks, 20 Reserves, 16 Sanctuaries, 6 Developments of Distinction and 6 Urban Night Sky Places.
|Country||Name||Location||Area (in ha)||Bortle scale||Status||Notes|
|Australia||The Jump-Up, Australian Age of Dinosaurs||Winton, Queensland||1,400||1–2||Dark Sky Sanctuary||Designated on Apr. 27, 2019|
|Australia||Warrumbungle National Park||New South Wales||23,312||Dark Sky Park||Designated on Jul. 4, 2016|
|Australia||River Murray DSR||South Australia||320,000||Dark Sky Reserve||Designated October 2019 (gold tier) |
|Canada||Beaver Hills||Alberta||29,300||4.5||Dark Sky Preserve||Designated on Sep. 3, 2006|
|Canada||Cypress Hills||Alberta / Saskatchewan||39,600||2||Designated on Sep. 28, 2004|
|Canada||Jasper National Park||Alberta||1,122,800||1–2||Dark Sky Preserve||Designated on Mar. 11, 2011|
|Canada||Wood Buffalo National Park||Alberta / NWT||4,480,700||1–2||UNESCO World Heritage
Dark Sky Preserve
|Designated on June 28, 2013|
|Canada||Cattle Point||Oak Bay, British Columbia||5||Urban Star Park||Designated March 29, 2013|
|Canada||McDonald Park||British Columbia||5||2–3||Dark Sky Preserve||Designated in 2003|
|Canada||Fundy National Park||New Brunswick||20,700||2||Dark Sky Preserve||Designated on Oct. 31, 2011|
|Canada||Irving Nature Park Urban Star Park||Saint John, New Brunswick||243||?||Urban Star Park||Designated on Jul. 1, 2011; First RASC-designated Urban Star Park|
|Canada||Kouchibouguac National Park||New Brunswick||23,920||2||Designated on Jun. 6, 2009|
|Canada||Mount Carleton Provincial Park||New Brunswick||17,427||2||Designated on Jul. 18, 2009|
|Canada||Kejimkujik National Park||Nova Scotia||40,400||2||Designated on Aug. 7, 2010|
|Canada||Bluewater Outdoor Education Centre||Ontario||129||2||Designated on Nov. 3, 2012 by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada|
|Canada||Bruce Peninsula Fathom Five National Marine Park||Ontario||16,700||2–3||Designated on Mar. 29, 2009|
|Canada||Gordon's Park||Ontario||43.7||2–3||Designated on Aug. 15, 2009; designation is only for the Park though Manitoulin Island (276,611 ha) follows dark-sky practices|
|Canada||Lake Superior Provincial Park||Ontario||155,600||1-2||Designated in July 2018 |
|Canada||Killarney Provincial Park||Ontario||64,500||1-2||Designated in May 2018 |
|Canada||North Frontenac Township||Ontario||116,000||1–2||Designated on August 3, 2013, first Municipality in Canada to achieve Dark Sky Preserve Status.|
|Canada||Point Pelee National Park||Ontario||2,000||3–4||Designated in 2006|
|Canada||Torrance Barrens||Ontario||1,906||3||Designated in 1999; first Canadian dark sky preserve|
|Canada||Mont Mégantic Observatory||Quebec||527,500||2–3||Dark Sky Reserve||Designated Sept. 2007; first IDA International Dark-Sky Reserve|
|Canada||Grasslands National Park||Saskatchewan||92,100||1||Designated on Oct. 2, 2009|
|Chile||Gabriela Mistral||Elqui Valley||36,400||Dark Sky Sanctuary||Designated in 2015|
| Czech Republic
|Beskydy Dark-Sky Park||Moravian-Silesian Region, Czech Republic
Čadca District, Slovakia
|30,800||3–4||Designated on Mar. 4, 2013; The second world's bilateral dark-sky park|
|Czech Republic||Manětín Dark-Sky Park||Plzeň Region||34,600||3–5||Designated on Sep. 15, 2014|
| Czech Republic
|Izera Dark-Sky Park||Liberec Region, Czech Republic
Lower Silesia, Poland
|7,500||3–4||Designated on Nov. 4, 2009; the first European dark-sky park and the first world's bilateral dark-sky park|
|France||Pic du Midi de Bigorre||Hautes-Pyrénées||311,200||2–4||Dark Sky Reserve||Designated an IDA International Dark Sky Reserve in December 2013; First IDA International Dark Sky Reserve in Europe.|
|France||Alpes Azur Mercantour||Beuil||225,000||Dark Sky Reserve||Designated in 2019.|
|France||Cévennes National Park||Cévennes||360,000||Dark Sky Reserve||Designated in 2018.|
|France||Regional Natural Park of Millevaches in Limousin||Millevaches||335,000||Dark Sky Reserve||Designated in 2021.|
|Germany||Rhön Biosphere Reserve||Rhön Mountains||172,000||Dark Sky Reserve||Designated in 2014.|
|Germany||Westhavelland Nature Park||Brandenburg||152,900||Designated an IDA International Dark Sky Reserve on Feb. 12, 2014|
|Hungary||Hortobágy Starry Sky Park||Various counties||10,000||3||Designated on Jan. 31, 2011; IDA's third international dark-sky park (Silver tier)|
|Hungary||Zselic National Landscape Protection Area||Somogy County / Baranya County||9,042||3–4||Designated on Nov. 16, 2009|
|India||Indian Astronomical Observatory||Hanle in Ladakh||70,000||Designated in September 2022.|
|Ireland||Kerry International Dark-Sky Reserve||Iveragh Peninsula, County Kerry||70,000||1–3||Dark Sky Reserve||Designated an IDA International Dark Sky Reserve on 27 January 2014|
|Israel||Makhtesh Ramon||Southern District||113.2||2–3||Dark Sky Park||Designated September 14, 2017|
|South Korea||Yeongyang Firefly Eco Park||North Gyeongsang Province, Yeongyang County, Subimyeon||390||Designated on Nov. 1, 2015|
|Namibia||NamibRand Nature Reserve||Hardap Region||202,200||Dark Sky Reserve||Designated in 2012.|
|The Netherlands||Boschplaat||Terschelling, Friesland||2,400||3||Dark Sky Park||Designated on Oct. 7, 2016|
|The Netherlands||Lauwersmeer||Groningen, Friesland||5,000||?||Dark Sky Park||Designated on Jun. 26, 2015|
|New Zealand||Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park||Tekapo||430,000||2||Dark Sky Reserve||Designated on 9 June 2012|
|New Zealand||Aotea / Great Barrier Island||Great Barrier Island||28,500||Dark Sky Sanctuary||Designated in 2017|
|New Zealand||Stewart Island/Rakiura||Stewart Island||174,600||Dark Sky Sanctuary||Designated in 2019|
|New Zealand||Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve||Wairarapa Valley||366,500||Dark Sky Reserve||Designated in 2023|
|Niue||Niue||Niue||25,900||Dark Sky Sanctuary||Designated in 2020. First whole country to become an International Dark Sky Place.|
|Poland||Bieszczady Starry-Sky Park||Subcarpathia||113,846||2–3||Designated on Mar. 8, 2013|
|East Carpathian Dark-Sky Tripark||Bieszczady Starry-Sky Park (Poland)
Poloniny Dark-Sky Park (Slovakia)
Transcarpathian Dark-Sky Park (Ukraine)
|208,667||2–3||Designated on Sep. 9, 2016; first world's trilateral dark-sky park|
|Slovakia||Poloniny Dark-Sky Park||Poloniny National Park||48,519||2–3||Designated on Dec. 3, 2010|
|Slovakia||Veľká Fatra Dark-Sky Park||Veľká Fatra National Park (part of)||325||3–4||Designated on Jun. 12, 2015|
|South Africa||!Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park||Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park||95,000||Dark Sky Sanctuary||Designated in 2019|
|Ukraine||Transcarpathian Dark-Sky Park||Uzhansky National Nature Park||46,302||2||Designated on Jun. 10, 2016|
|United Kingdom||Exmoor National Park||Devon / Somerset, England||18,100||3||Dark Sky Reserve||Designated 10 October 2011|
|United Kingdom||Galloway Forest Park||Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland||75,000||3||Designated on Nov. 16, 2009|
|United Kingdom||Sark||Guernsey||545||3||Designated on Jan. 31, 2011; IDA's first international dark-sky island (Silver tier)|
|United Kingdom||Isle of Coll||Inner Hebrides, Scotland||7,700||1||Designated on Dec. 9, 2013|
|United Kingdom||Northumberland National Park||Northumberland, England||103,000||3||Dark Sky Park||Designated on Dec. 9, 2013|
|United Kingdom||Brecon Beacons||Wales||134,700||4||Dark Sky Reserve||Designated 19 February 2013|
|United Kingdom||Mata ki te Rangi (Eyes To the Sky)||Pitcairn Islands||4,325||1||Dark Sky Sanctuary||Designated 18 March 2019|
|United Kingdom||Snowdonia National Park||Wales||213,200||Dark Sky Reserve||Designated 2015|
|United Kingdom||Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli)||Wales||179||2||Dark Sky Sanctuary||Designated 22 February 2023|
|United States||Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument||Arizona||424,200||Dark Sky Park||Designated 2014|
|United States||Death Valley National Park||California||1,374,300||Dark Sky Park||Designated 2013|
|United States||Joshua Tree National Park||California||319,600||Dark Sky Park||Designated July 26, 2017|
|United States||Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park||Colorado||12,440||Dark Sky Park||Designated 2015|
|United States||Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve||Colorado||60,310||2||Dark Sky Park||Designated 2019|
|United States||Hovenweep National Monument||Colorado / Utah||310||2||Dark Sky Park||Designated 2014|
|United States||Big Cypress National Preserve||Florida||290,000||3||Dark Sky Park ||Designated 2016|
|United States||Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park||Florida||21,853||3||Dark Sky Park||Designated 2016|
|United States||Stephen C. Foster State Park||Georgia||32||2||Dark Sky Park||Designated November 2016|
|United States||Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve||Idaho||366,742||1||Dark Sky Reserve||Designated December 2017|
|United States||Potawatomi Wildlife Park||Indiana||116||4.5||Designated in 2003|
|United States||Lake Hudson State Recreation Area||Michigan||890||3||Dark Sky Preserve||Designated in 1993|
|United States||Negwegon State Park||Michigan||1,513||Dark Sky Preserve||Designated in 2016|
|United States||Port Crescent State Park||Michigan||2,400||3||Dark Sky Preserve||Designated in 2012|
|United States||Rockport State Recreation Area||Michigan||4,800||Dark Sky Preserve||Designated in 2016|
|United States||Thompson's Harbor State Park||Michigan||2,068||2||Dark Sky Preserve||Designated in 2016|
|United States||Wilderness State Park||Michigan||4,254||2||Dark Sky Preserve||Designated in 2012|
|United States||The Headlands||Michigan||220||3–5||Dark Sky Park||Designated in 2011|
|United States||Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness||Minnesota||440,000||1||Dark Sky Sanctuary||Designated in 2020|
|United States||Great Basin National Park||Nevada||31,230||1||Dark Sky Park||Designated in 2016|
|United States||Chaco Culture National Historical Park||New Mexico||13,759||2–3||Dark Sky Park||Designated on Aug. 28, 2013|
|United States||Clayton Lake||New Mexico||190||Designated June 29, 2010|
|United States||Observatory Park||Ohio||450||?||Designated on Aug. 20, 2011|
|United States||Cherry Springs State Park||Pennsylvania||430||2||Dark Sky Park||Designated as a State DSP in 2000 by the Pennsylvania DCNR;|
Designated as an International DSP on June 11, 2007, by the IDA.
|United States||Big Bend National Park||Texas||324,219||Dark Sky Park||Designated February 11, 2012|
|United States||Copper Breaks State Park||Texas||770||Dark Sky Park||Designated Aug. 6, 2014|
|United States||Dripping Springs||Texas||30,300||Dark-sky Community||Designated February 11, 2014|
|United States||Enchanted Rock||Texas||665||Dark Sky Park||Designated Aug. 6, 2014|
|United States||UBarU Camp & Retreat Center||Texas||57.5||2–3||Dark Sky Park||Designated in 2015; only DSP in the USA on private land|
|United States||Canyonlands National Park||Utah||136,500||Dark Sky Park||Designated 2015|
|United States||Capitol Reef National Park||Utah||98,000||Dark Sky Park||Designated 2015|
|United States||Natural Bridges National Monument||Utah||3,090||2||Dark Sky Park||Designated in 2007; first international dark-sky park|
|United States||Goldendale Observatory||Washington||2||Dark Sky Park||Designated June 29, 2010|
|United States||Newport State Park||Wisconsin||960||Designated in 2017|
|Name||Country||Radius (in km)|
|Mount John University Observatory||New Zealand||37|
|Mont Mégantic Observatory||Canada||50|
|Monte Ekar Observatory||Italy||30|
|Asiago Astrophysical Observatory||Italy||30|
|Observatoire de Haute-Provence||France||15|
|Ondřejov Observatory||Czech Republic||10|
|Dominion Astrophysical Observatory||Canada||5|
|Molėtai Astronomical Observatory||Lithuania||3.5|
Some regions, like the following, are protected without any reference to an observatory or a park.
- Regions of Coquimbo, Atacama, and Antofagasta in northern Chile
- The island of La Palma of the Canary Islands
- The Big Island of Hawaii
- Florida beach communities restrict lighting on beaches, to preserve hatchling Sea Turtles.
In the Canadian program, lighting within the area must be strictly controlled to minimize the impact of artificial lighting on wildlife. These guidelines are more stringent than in other countries that lack the extensive wilderness areas that still exist in Canada. The management of a Canadian DSP extends their outreach programs from the public that visit the site to include the promotion of better lighting policies in surrounding urban areas. Currently, dark-sky preserves have more control over internal and external lighting than other programs.
With the increase in regional light pollution, some observatories have actively worked with cities in their region to establish protection zones where there is controlled light pollution. These areas may not yet have been declared dark-sky preserves.
Although dark-sky preserve designations are generally sought by astronomers, it is clear that preserving natural darkness has positive effects on the health of nocturnal wildlife within the parks. For example, the nocturnal black-footed ferret was reintroduced to the Grasslands National Park dark-sky preserve and the success of the reintroduction is enhanced by the pristine natural darkness maintained within the park by the DSP agreement.
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