Xichong sets a dark sky example

Writer: Han Ximin  |  Editor: Zhang Chanwen  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2023-04-12

After a long trip from the U.S. to Shenzhen via Hong Kong, Ruskin Hartley, CEO and executive director of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), finally felt refreshed and reconnected with nature when he arrived at Xichong.

“You can feel the breeze, hear breath of the ocean waves, feel the moisture in the air and appreciate the infinite stars when the sky is clear. This is what the Dark Sky Community is for,” Hartley said at an interview after presenting Xichong’s International Dark Sky Community plaque at a ceremony Monday.

Ruskin Hartley, CEO and executive director of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), speaks at the ceremony in Xichong on Monday. Liu Xudong

Xichong became the first International Dark Sky Community in China, joining a handful of other communities in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Slovenia, Denmark and Japan that are recognized for their exceptional dedication to the preservation of the night sky.

“The Xichong pilot project, over the last couple of years, has built a Dark Sky Community model for other cities across China and around the world,” Hartley said.

A Dark Sky Community is a special place where people come together to choose quality lighting, improve their quality of life and protect wildlife.

The IDA adopts a unified standard in selecting dark sky communities, while allowing applicants to showcase their uniqueness.

“Xichong is special since it combines astronomical and ecological sides. It will be good for the community’s economy in the future, and it demonstrates that dark sky protection can go hand in hand with dark sky principles in green urban development as well as harmonious coexistence among humans, nature and the city,” Hartley said.

Shenzhen started to apply for the Dark Sky Community in April 2021 and completed the certification in two years.

“Xichong stands out for the remarkable steps it has taken to achieve this recognition from planning to renovation. When reviewing Xichong’s application, the committee was impressed by the work that had been done, noting both the community’s dedication and innovation, particularly in survey work, lighting demonstrations and renovation,” Hartley said.

“It is wonderful to see how the government worked out incentives for private businesses and individuals to follow suit,” he added.

According to Hartley, the observatory’s practice of handing out tickets for home stay visits is a wonderful example of providing everyone incentives to see the community. For too long, it has been assumed that light pollution inevitably follows urban development, growing at a rate of 10% per year and is out of control in many parts of the world. However, Xichong offers hope that this trend can be reversed, and demonstrates that dark sky protections are essential in smart, modern and vibrant communities.

                              The starry sky over Xichong Beach in Dapeng New Area in this undated file photo. Tang Baihong

Fact box

International Dark-Sky Association

THE International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) is a non-profit organization incorporated in 1988 by founders David Crawford, a professional astronomer, and Tim Hunter, a physician/amateur astronomer. The mission of the IDA is “to preserve and protect the night time environment and our heritage of dark skies through quality outdoor lighting.”

International Dark Sky Places Program

THE International Dark Sky Places Program was founded in 2001 as a non-regulatory and voluntary program to encourage communities, parks, and protected areas worldwide to preserve and protect dark sites through effective lighting policies, environmentally responsible outdoor lighting, and public education. When used indiscriminately, artificial light can disrupt ecosystems, impact human health, waste money and energy, contribute to climate change, and block our view and connection to the universe.

Xichong International Dark Sky Community

THE Xichong International Dark Sky Community now joins more than 200 places around the world that have demonstrated community support for dark sky advocacy and have gone above and beyond to protect the night from light pollution.

The community is located at the southeast end of Shenzhen. It is about 60 kilometers away from the Shenzhen urban center and holds Shenzhen’s most well-composed natural ecosystem. It has about 1,800 villagers from eight villages. The earliest village was built in the late Song Dynasty (960–1279), with many cultural relics withstanding in the Xichong Community.