With our hectic lifestyles it is no surprise that we have our heads down, especially as technology has become more integrated into our everyday life. We find ourselves looking from one screen to another at work and at home. Whilst these screens can act as portals to a great many things, such as vast seas of information and countless connections, it is all too easy for us to get wrapped up in this lifestyle, often forgetting the natural wonders of the world. Think back, when was the last time you looked up at the night sky, to see the stars?
As we strive for advancement and development, it can often be the case that we are unwittingly dulling the shine of these natural wonders around the world. Burning fossil fuels generates toxic emissions which contribute to climate change, damaging our planet and our home. Introducing too much artificial lighting of inappropriate intensities to an area can contribute to light pollution, which only locks one of the universe’s most breathtaking natural wonders, the star studded night sky, deeper into darkness.
Right now, due to light pollution, most people in the world do not have the chance to see the stars unclouded. We are losing sight of something that is billions of years old, that has served as a beacon of hope and a shining light of inspiration to countless generations for thousands of years. We must recover this light, the starry night sky, and we must protect it.
This is the aim of the Starlight Foundation created in 2009, to protect and preserve our night sky, an integral part of humanity’s heritage. The Foundation believes an unpolluted night sky to be an inalienable right to everyone and considers the degradation of our sky to be a fundamental loss.
The Starlight Foundation hopes to realise the preservation of our night sky by promoting intelligent lighting, which will not only allow for energy conservation, but will also help to mitigate climate change. Furthermore, The Foundation also aims to promote astronomy in a fun and accessible way for all ages, through tourist activities related to space and the stars, building a network of facilities such as observatories, where astronomical festivals and astrophotography contests can be held.
Star tourism is one of the main priorities of the Foundation. To this end, a certification system has been created whereby areas that maintain natural lighting conditions, and where the clarity of the night sky remains intact can become accredited as Starlight Tourist Destinations.
The Dark Sky Alqueva Association is located in the rural village of Cumeada, Portugal, and In 2011, it became the world’s first Starlight Tourist Destination. The atmospheric conditions and clarity of the sky in the village make it possible for visitors to enjoy the stunning view of the clear night sky.
Cumeada is host to a collection of facilities such as the Dark Sky Observatory and Headquarters, which offer many fascinating and engaging activities from astrophotography workshops, night tours across the Great Lake Alqueva, stargazing sessions, solar observations and guided tours of the 7,500-year-old stone circle of Almendres Cromlech, the largest prehistoric monument on the Iberian Peninsula. From this monument we hope to learn how the ancient civilizations of Cumeada observed the night sky and looked towards it for answers.
Accommodation within the village is tailored to meet the needs of astro tourists and star gazers, offering late meals and takeaway food packs to give visitors the boost they need for late night stargazing adventures.
The Starlight Foundation, Dark Sky Aqueva, and the rural village of Cumeada are, quite literally, shining examples of how the hospitality and tourism industry have the opportunity to become leading voices in our stride towards a more environmentally conscious society. Destinations such as Dark Sky Aqueva have the power to inspire, just at the starry night sky itself has inspired so many, the determination to affect change and defend our world, our planet, and our home.
The world’s first Starlight Tourism Destination reminds us to take a step back from our hectic and busy lives, to enjoy and engage with the natural world. It also serves as a reminder that we must protect what is precious to us and that the dissemination of knowledge and education is vital in this act of preservation.
The night sky connects us all. Those of past generations, who came before us and gazed up at the sparkling stars, those of us here, right now in the present, to those of future who are yet to come. We all share the same night sky. Thus, we must think about how we treat our planet and our home, how we can better protect them for future generations. We must hold onto and honor this connection, our shared heritage and humanity.
Written by Katie Wilson, EP Business in Hospitality