Just off the coast of Australia, at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, there’s a small coral cay, unlike many others. There, visitors from around the world stay at the Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort where they can learn about the conservation and sustainable management of the environment. The 41 room destination was created in 1984 and is focused on informing visitors how to enjoy the pristine area without damaging it.
The resort itself has been able to keep energy consumption low by using solar technology. In addition to generating their own power, the island also desalinates seawater for drinking, maintains a wastewater treatment plant, and recycles most of its trash. In 2005, Peter Gash took over the island and has been working to make the island 100 percent sustainable by 2020. His team was able to have the island and surrounding area designated as a “green zone” which is the top level of protection.
As a protected area, Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort is tasked as a guardian to the surrounding Great Barrier Reef and has standards set in place to help outside tourists respect the local area. For example, guests are not allowed to take natural items that they may find. They’re also encouraged to keep group sizes small to provide minimal impact on the area. Visitors are also asked to avoid sensitive areas like animal breeding or nesting areas.
As a small coral cay, the island’s vegetation is fragile to maintain, and the team works on the re-greening program to keep active re-vegetation. They plant native “coral cay” species and nurture the area to create a positive environment for flora and fauna. So far, they have planted 4,000 trees and continue to plant more every year.
For waste management, the team is able to treat grey water and use it for irrigation. The recycled waste is removed by barge every three months. Green waste is sent to their compost. They’re looking into ways to turn oil from the kitchen into biodiesel fuel. As for glass waste, they’ve bought a high tech glass oppressor that can turn glass bottles back into sand.
Since the oceans are such a focal point of conservation for the island, Lady Elliot became the first island on the Great Barrier Reef to stop selling bottled water. Instead, guests are encouraged to use reusable bottles and fill them from drinking fountains. Plastic straws are also not given out at their bar and cafe.
The local staff also works with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Eye on the Reef monitoring and assessment program. This program lets anyone contribute to the local conservation efforts by collecting useful information about reef health, marine animals, and incidents. The app allows anyone to share valuable details and photos if they see anything ranging from pests to developments with the coral.
So far, Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort has been recognized for their environmental efforts and won awards such as the Advanced Eco Certification by Ecotourism Australia as well as The Steve Irwin Award for Ecotourism. While this tiny island is making firm strides towards sustainable tourism, hopefully, they can serve as a model for other resorts around the world.