Reach for the stars! Manitoulin’s dark skies offer incredible star gazing opportunities

Author and writer Joan Marie Galat gave presentations at this past weekend’s Star Party on ‘Dark Matters’ and ‘Dot to Dot in the Sky.’ photo by Robin Burridge

MANITOULIN— Manitoulin Island has many unique features that make it a beautiful place both to live and visit. One of these special features is Manitoulin’s dark skies which offer incredible star gazing opportunities, free of the light pollution found in large urban areas.

“Many years back a group of us formed the Manitoulin Island Dark Sky Association,” explained Rita Gordon, the founding president of the association and the owner of Gordon’s Park, Canada’s first Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) Commercial Dark-Sky Preserve. “The idea was that Manitoulin was a great place for astronomy and we learned through the star parties that it was something that brought visitors to the Island. We went to different Island municipalities and First Nations and asked them to support Manitoulin as a dark sky sanctuary, which many did, and adopt a bylaw for light shielding fixtures.  The idea is that they shield light downwards to limit light pollution.”

“Manitoulin has become very well known for its dark skies,” continued Ms. Gordon. “At Gordon’s Park we offer a place where people can not only enjoy a dark-sky preserve, but also camp. There aren’t many places like us. We also offer a 360 degree view of the sky and our sky quality metre reading goes from 21.96 to 22.45—the best you can get is 23.”

Gordon’s Park received recognition as a RASC Dark-Sky Preserve in November of 2008, but Manitoulin Island as a whole is recognized for following dark sky practices.

The park is open to astronomers for accommodations and observing from May to September annually and hosts numerous star parties which include guest speakers and observing workshops.

Author Joan Marie Galat was a star party speaker and stressed the importance of dark sky sanctuaries and preserves during her presentation ‘Dark Matters’ (named for her book by the same name that explores the harmful affect of light pollution, weaved with related personal stories)Ms. Galat shared the harmful affects of light pollution (the excessive and inappropriate use of artificial light) on nature, insects, mammals (including humans), reptiles and birds.

This photo of Dumbell Nebulae was also taken on Manitoulin at  Gordon’s Park. photo by Paul Beduhn
This photo of Dumbell Nebulae was also taken on Manitoulin at Gordon’s Park.
photo by Paul Beduhn

“Light pollution has huge impacts on animals at night,” said Ms. Galat. “Predators such as owls can usually see their pray a football field away, but light pollution can limit the distance they can see. Artificial light also forms a light barrier for some species which is referred to as the ‘crash barrier’.”

Crash barrier can prevent animals from crossing from one wildlife area to another in urban areas.

“Insects will fly up to 400 feet away for light,” continued Ms. Galat. “Some scientists believe that insects use the moon light to keep direction, which is why many will become confused and circle a light because they think it is the moon.”

“Amphibians are one of the first animals to respond negatively to light pollution,” Ms. Galat said. “Predators are more likely to get frogs if there is artificial light and frogs lose their night vision from headlights and yard solar lights. As well, male frogs won’t sing if there is artificial light and that is how they attract their mates.”

Ms. Galat also reviewed how light pollution negatively affects bats as they come out at twilight for feeding, but are confused when there is the presence of artificial light and can miss the prime feeding time.

“Plants are also impacted by light pollution,” noted Ms. Galat. “Even just flicking backyard lights on and off at night can age certain species as they register it as the beginning and end of a day.”

Ms. Galat said that there are many things people can do to help with light pollution including: avoid using light when possible shine direct light where it needs to be and use timers and motion sensors.

“Dark skies are very important,” said Ms. Galat. “On the one side, it is a shame we have to have dark sky preserves, but on the other, it is a reminder why they are so important. Manitoulin is a place to be introduced to the idea and a wonderful place to come enjoy the dark sky. Manitoulin’s various municipal bylaws came up as I was working on my books, so I am really pleased to come here and experience the dark skies and share my stories.”

“The night is only another world away, just turn off the light,” concluded Ms. Galat. “Dark matters.”