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France Earns Dark-Sky Reserve





The IDA, a non-profit organization fighting to preserve the night sky, has announced the designation of Pic du Midi Observatory (pictured above) as the first Dark-Sky Reserve in France. It is the second largest in the world after Aoraki Mackenzie in New Zealand.


The International Dark-Sky Association has announced the designation of Pic du Midi Observatory, which resides in the Pyrenees Mountains, as the first International Dark-Sky Reserve in France. It will be known in France as Reserve Internationale de Ciel Etoile du Pic du Midi.

The area consists of 1,202 square miles of public and private lands, encompasses a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Pyrenees-Mont Perdu) and a French national park (Pyrenees National Park), and currently draws 1.5 million visitors per year.

"In creating the Reserve, the Pic du Midi team has not only protected a vanishing resource, they have made it better than it was," said IDA Executive Director Bob Parks. "We commend and celebrate their exceptional efforts."

The efforts leading to the designation began in the 1990s when Europe nearly lost the Pic du Midi Observatory, an astronomical research facility, due to government budget cuts. According to Daniel Soucaze des Soucaze, executive director of Pic du Midi, the observatory was saved by an alliance between science and tourism.

To help achieve IDA recognition, a total of 251 communities adopted a comprehensive outdoor lighting management plan (LMP) that included retrofits and replacements of existing lighting fixtures, and the use of new lighting technologies.

By 2013, early results showed the LMP could effectively reduce light pollution in the region by 85 percent and energy usage by 38 percent, all while maintaining safe lighting levels for residents and visitors.

The region now hopes to further research into land use policy and practices, tourism business models, and resource sustainability at the nearby University of Pau and Pays de l'Adour. A team, designated by the University, will manage the Pic du Midi IDSR project. They will also install and maintain scientific instruments in the Pic du Midi region, which will monitor the quality of the night sky in the future.

In coming years, officials at Pic du Midi plan to work with their Spanish counterparts to expand the protected territory into Spain, making for the first IDA Dark Sky Reserve spanning two nations.

For more information about the IDA, please visit darksky.org.

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October 17, 2019, 7:02 am PDT

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