Gold star potential in dark sky ecotourism, claims TUS Athlone academic


The Midlands region offers vast potential to capitalise upon dark sky tourism, a Director of Research Development in the Faculty of Business and Hospitality at Technological University of the Shannon: Athlone Campus, has stated this week.

Speaking to the Athlone Advertiser, Dr Tony Johnston, noted the popularity of dark sky tourism on a global scale, its benefits for ecological protection and restoration and referenced locations within the Midlands region which offer potential in this regard.

“Dark sky ecotourism describes rural tourism which takes place at night, outdoors, under clear skies, which have low levels of light pollution. It is a form of tourism which can have strong benefits for ecological protection and restoration, as artificial light is damaging for nocturnal species and insect life.

“Dark sky tourism is very popular across the world, with notable attractions in the south of Portugal (Dark Sky Alqueva ) and across much of Scandinavia and Iceland. Internationally, dark sky locations are accredited by the International Dark Sky Association and two locations in Ireland have received designation from this body; namely Mayo Dark Sky Park in Ballycroy and Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve on the Iveragh Peninsula. These parks are highly regarded at home, and abroad, as offering excellent locations to view the night sky.

“European skies suffer greatly from light pollution and in many areas of the continent, particularly in the densely populated regions, citizens can no longer see much in the skies at all. This is unfortunate for many reasons. Artificial lighting is in many cases either too bright or totally unnecessary. It is bad for human health and sleep, disrupts nocturnal species, and is detrimental for the insect population upon which many other species depend.

“Many studies have shown enormous growth in light pollution over the past decade with star visibility non-existent now in some area. It probably goes without saying it is also very expensive to light up the outdoors to the extent we do. Reducing light pollution, through properly assessing what lighting is really needed, when it is needed, where it placed and pointed, and the technicalities of the equipment is an important task for our public authorities, private businesses, and citizens at home.

“With reduced light pollution, opportunities quickly emerge for the rural entrepreneur. Ecology night safaris can be offered to visiting tourists to learn about native species and nocturnal animals and insects, alongside what they need to thrive in their habitat. Night time adventure pursuits can be connected to the quality of the night sky. Many of the Nordic countries offer night time photography courses to guide participants in photographing the Milky Way, or celestial events such as the Aurora Borealis and eclipses. Other possibilities exist for infrastructure development, including observatories, and installation of star gazing platforms,” Dr Johnston commented.

Potential Within Midlands Region

The director is of the view that it is now essential to raise awareness of the potential for dark skies in the Midlands region which would allow for a competitive advantage over more densely populated locations in the country.

“The Midlands has excellent potential for capitalising on this form of tourism. There are both public and private sites which have already demonstrated recent and historical potential. Many readers, for example, will have encountered on social media some of the excellent photography of the Milky Way taken over the Sky Train sculpture in Lough Boora Discovery Park in County Offaly. Other readers may be familiar with the astronomy heritage at Birr Castle. The lakes, forests and heritage properties in the Midlands, alongside iconic geographical features such as the River Shannon and Slieve Bloom Mountains, offer enormous potential for innovation in this field. Initiatives from TUS Athlone, the tourism authorities, local councils, authorities and others will surely support further opportunities.

“It is vital to raise awareness about the potential for dark skies in our wonderful Midlands region. This will give us a competitive advantage over other more densely populated areas which cannot reduce light pollution to the same extent as our region. Many organisations and individuals have dedicated significant time to this work, with strong passion for the topic. Ireland, and specifically the Midlands has untapped potential. To maximise the benefit, we need to promote the concept, and most importantly consult stakeholders and communities concerning what works well for all,” Dr Johnston remarked.


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