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Okinawa islands seek to have local national park designated as 'starry sky reserve'

Two local municipalities in Okinawa Prefecture have applied to have Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park, which includes several islands off the southernmost prefecture, designated as a "starry sky reserve" in the first such application from Japan.

    "The International Dark Sky Places" conservations program was launched in 2001 by the nonprofit organization International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), formed by astronomers and other experts, to support worldwide action against "light pollution" -- excessive artificial light that obscures starry skies and which can harm ecological systems.

    To be recognized as a Dark Sky Place, at least two-thirds of outdoor lights in the area need to be redesigned in such a way that they would not illuminate skies above horizon within three years from application, as well as using warm colors such as yellow or orange in lights outside to keep color temperatures at 3,000 Kelvins or lower. The Ishigaki and Taketomi municipal governments in Okinawa Prefecture have set up a plan to replace all outdoor lights (roughly 700 sets) at the 40,653-hectare national park.

    Among the Yaeyama Islands, nine islets -- northern Ishigaki Island, Iriomote Island, Taketomi Island, Kohama Island, Kuroshima Island, Hatoma Island, Hateruma Island, Yubu Island and Aragusuku Island -- are included in the planned starry sky reserve. The two municipal governments applied for the designation in July.

    Nobuaki Ochi, associate professor of environmental education at Toyo University and a member of IDA's Tokyo chapter, who helped Okinawan municipalities with the application, says applying for the starry sky reserve was made possible when there was a renewed sense of appreciation towards what was taken for granted by the locals. The national park is expected to be designated as a Dark Sky Place as early as October.

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