A sprawling park in northern Canada has become the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserve, a designation that protects the area’s nighttime ecology and will allow visitors to continue experiencing the northern lights.
Last week, Wood Buffalo National Park which straddles northeastern Alberta and the Northwest Territories, was given the distinction by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, which works to protect the night environment from the effects of light pollution.
Not only does artificial lighting from urban sprawl and pulsing metropolises blot out the night stars, light pollution has also been blamed for everything from the destruction of ecosystems, the erosion of human health, and unnecessary energy consumption, says the International Dark-Sky Association.
The park's Dark Sky Preserve designation will limit the illumination level, the extent, duration and even the color of artificial lighting to minimize the impact on the appearance of the night sky and on the behavior of wildlife such as the area’s large populations of bats, night hawks and owls.
It will also ensure the night sky remains unmarred from artificial lighting so that it can continue giving visitors the celestial light show only visible in pitch-black conditions.
To fete the new designation, Parks Canada has announced plans to throw an annual three-day festival featuring overnight camping, astronomical presentations, a planetarium experience, night sky viewing and a family science and activity fair.
Light pollution is the blanket of yellow haze created from excessive and often unnecessary street lighting and has been blamed for disrupting the human circadian rhythm which can lead to everything from sleep disorders and depression to cancer and cardiovascular disease, says the Dark Sky association.
Excessive exposure to nighttime glare and urban glow from street lights and illuminated buildings has also been shown to impair eyesight.
Wood Buffalo National Park is already a UNESCO designated heritage site for being home to the North America's largest bison population and its rich biodiversity.
The inaugural Wood Buffalo Dark Sky Festival takes place August 23-25.