Photography obsessed writer and urban explorer. Lover of nature, art and long weekends. Adelaide, South Australia.
Published July 23rd 2017
South Australia’s First Dark Sky Reserve
Cambrai, near Mannum on the River Murray has dark skies. Very dark skies - and they can prove it. Recent testing has revealed that a "whole galaxy" can be viewed from the area. The night sky above the Mid-Murray is so dark that plans are underway to turn it into a protected reserve for stargazers, astronomers and astrophotographers.
An application is currently in progress with the Dark Sky Association to have the area added to their international list and be known as a Dark Sky Reserve - an area that is free of light pollution. Essentially it will become like a World Heritage Listing for the night sky.
At present, there are 36 formally recognised Dark Sky preserved areas around the world. If accepted, the River Murray Dark Sky Reserve would be the second in Australia to make the list. In 2016, Warrumbungle National Park in NSW was declared a Dark Sky Sanctuary.
The Reserve area will be within the region of Younghusband to Swan Reach and towards the Sturt Highway. The exact location is still to be decided but Meldana, near Cambrai is likely to become the 'core site' for the Reserve and will be home to larger telescopes. Other sites under consideration are Towitta Park, Brookfield Conservation Park, Swan Reach Conservation Park, Ridley Conservation Park, Marne River Conservation Park, Ngaut Ngaut and Sunnydale, with various community groups and land owners offering their interest in setting up camp sites. The River Murray Dark Sky Reserve proposal is incredibly exciting and the tourism potential is simply enormous.
Darkness is measured on a scale of 0 to 22, with 22 being total darkness. Preliminary measurements of the area in January 2017 showed that the skies returned results at the upper end of the scale - the skies scored a 21.97 out of 22.00, which is much darker than many of the accredited regions in the northern hemisphere.
The Astronomical Society of SA (ASSA) says the Mid-Murray region has some of the clearest night skies in the state; in particular the area from Cambrai to Sunnydale. Cambrai is less than 2 hours drive from the Adelaide CBD - it has a very low annual rainfall and the skies are mostly cloudless. All of these factors are creating an exciting vibe amongst those who are preparing the application.
The Mid-Murray Landcare group proposed the idea and they have the generous backing and support from Mid Murray Council and the Astronomical Society of SA, as well as from enthusiastic community volunteers. The Reserve is bound to gain significant national and international attention with an expected boost to tourism if the Reserve gains the accreditation that's being sought.
There are 5 different types of Dark Sky designations around the world - these are mostly made up of Dark Sky Reserves, Dark Sky Parks and Dark Sky Sanctuaries.
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 the 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.
The IDA's approval process is strict and if successful, results in the area receiving Star rating: Gold, Silver or Bronze. In a Gold-rated park you would expect to be able to see to almost forever - the full array of "visible sky phenomena" including auroras, the Milky Way, the zodiacal light and even faint meteors can be seen.