The first International Astrotourism Congress is being held at Portugual’s University of Evora. It aims to promote sustainable tourism for people who simply want to look at the stars.
The event was organised by the Starlight Foundation, which promotes the preservation of the night sky and access to starlight to bodies like the United Nations.
Director Antonia Valera, a researcher at the Institute of Astrophysics of Canary Islands, said: “We have realised the sky is not just for scientists. Protecting the sky is protecting biodiversity, flora and fauna.
“It’s protecting our health because we are also a species living on the planet. Protecting nature and the environment, we are incorporating the landscape that we have forgotten. Therefore, a sustainable planet depends on the preservation and conservation of the night skies.”
Starlight was born with the “Declaration in Defence of the Night Sky and the Right to Starlight” (2007), in which a consortium of organizations including UNESCO agreed to promote the dissemination of astronomy and sustainable, high-quality tourism in places where the night sky is visible.
One major venue for astrotourists is the Lake Alqueva Astronomical Observatory in Montsaraz, Portugal.
Cristina Fabo Indurain, of the Astrotourism Complex of Entre Encinas y Estrellas in Extremadura, Spain, said: “They bring us their telescopes. They set them up with us, and operate them remotely from their homes.”
Juan Antonio Belmonte, an astronomer at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias who researches the astronomical traditions of ancient cultures, told Euronews: “The Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias created the sky protection law several decades ago, which requires a certain type of lighting and luminaires. Air traffic is limited and there are a whole series of protections.”
Susana Malón, CEO of light pollution reduction agency Lumínica Ambiental, stressed the importance of implementing plans for a lighting night sky friendly. “Just as we are aware that noise pollutes,” she said, “we also have to take into account that excessive lighting can also cause environmental pollution that goes far beyond losing stars.”
Fernando Ruiz, a Mercedarian friar and Starlight monitor, said that in his view looking at the night sky was a spiritual experience. “These experiences transform us,” he said. “They make us understand the size of who we are and the size of our problems.”
Up to 40 percent of tourists are now thought to travel to Dark Sky destinations specifically for stargazing. The International Astrotourism Conference was initially scheduled for June 2021 but was postponed to September 8-11, 2021.