Speakers at the First Conference on Sky Protection and Employment Opportunities in La Palma
“Santa Cruz de La Palma was the first city in the Canary Islands to have electric lighting in its streets”, explained Antonia María Varela Pérez, Director of the Starlight Foundation, during the opening of the meeting held this week as part of Astrofest La Palma 2020, which was also attended by Raúl Camacho, Minister of Tourism of the La Palma Island Council. During these first words, Varela recalled that, years later, the island of La Palma was once again at the forefront of the archipelago with the first law to protect the sky in order to stop the light pollution that this artificial light produced and which is harmful to both living beings and astronomy.
This Tuesday, 29th September, a meeting was held at the Casa Salazar in Santa Cruz de La Palma, in which the problem of light pollution was addressed from different angles. José Domingo Fernándes Herrera, Director General for the Fight against Climate Change and the Environment of the Canary Islands Government, was in charge of speaking about the consequences of light pollution on climate change, as well as the regulations that govern it. During his speech he pointed out the existence of the island ordinance regulating exterior lighting on Fuerteventura, to protect the night sky, which could be exported to other islands or municipalities interested in safeguarding this highly prized asset. In it, he also announced that the Regional Ministry of Ecological Transition, the Fight against Climate Change and Territorial Planning was launching a public consultation on the legislative initiative approving the Law on Biodiversity and Natural Resources in the Canary Islands.
This meeting, which was held on the island of Tenerife last January, was also attended by Miquel Serra Ricart, administrator of the Teide Observatory and astronomer at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC). Serra-Ricart addressed the environmental problem of light pollution by paying attention to the sky glow. As he explained during his talk, there is natural light pollution, which is not harmful to nocturnal ecosystems, although it can affect astronomy; and an artificial sky glow that can and should be monitored, due to its consequences on living beings. He explained how the devices that measure light pollution work and spoke of the technological developments that have taken place during the European projects STARS4ALL and EELabs, pointing out that “more than a year’s worth of data is needed to check that a region is free of light pollution”.
The First Conference on Sky Protection and Employment Opportunities in La Palma, organised by the Starlight Foundation and the Cabildo of La Palma, within the framework of Astrofest La Palma 2020, also dealt with the socio-economic impact of the Canary Islands’ observatories. Juan Carlos Pérez Arencibia, administrator of the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, was in charge of talking about how Astrophysics is affecting society in the Islands, focusing on La Palma. Pérez Arencibia summarised the three reports that have evaluated the economic and social results of more than three decades of astrophysical observatories in the Canary Islands, pointing out some data. For example, the number of direct jobs generated by science and technology on La Palma exceeds 200 on the island, while indirect jobs are estimated at more than 500. Furthermore, the growth potential of this sector on La Palma continues to be a world reference for the quality of its skies. Moreover, the growth potential of this sector in La Palma continues to be a world reference for the quality of its skies. For every euro invested by the administration, 3.56 euros are generated through other related sectors, such as industry and tourism.
For his part, Javier Díaz Castro, head of the IAC’s Technical Office for the Protection of the Sky, gave a tour of the legislation, innovation in lighting and projects to reduce light pollution that are being carried out in La Palma. Despite the fact that light pollution is a serious problem, it can represent an opportunity for the creation of new jobs: from the design of lighting installations in protected areas or the provision of advice to engineering, architectural and manufacturing studios; to the creation of certification and auditing companies, in order to create a culture of intelligent lighting that respects the starry night.
Antonia M. Varela Pérez was in charge of closing this Conference on Sky Protection and Employment Opportunities in La Palma. The director of the Starlight Foundation began her speech by reminding us that “the right to an unpolluted night sky that allows us to enjoy the contemplation of the firmament must be considered an inalienable right of Humanity, comparable to other environmental, social and cultural rights, taking into account its impact on the development of all peoples and its repercussions on the conservation of biological diversity”. This is stated in the first article of the so-called La Palma Declaration. Varela focused his speech on explaining the functioning and objectives of the Starlight Foundation, emphasising Star Tourism since, as he recalled, “Astrotourism continues to take hold in Spain, especially in rural areas with better sky conditions, and in the last year the demand for international Starlight certifications has grown by more than 300%. In the face of the covid, star tourism is emerging as a very favourable type of tourism, since it is developed in open, attractive, uncrowded and safer spaces”.
You can see the complete session again at: https://bit.ly/3igi8Sp