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Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Great Barrier Reef: Eco-tourism with a Mission

On a recent trip, I had the great privilege to go to Australia, where I stayed on the eco-conscious and luxurious Heron Island. Located 72km off the coast of the Australian mainland, Heron Island is surrounded by part of the Great Barrier Reef. Virtually untouched by society, the only human presence on this small island is from a resort and a research center. At Heron Island, they take a different approach to providing an enjoyable experience for their guests than many modern resorts. While rooms are chic and the food is gourmet, there is a low-tech approach to most of life on Heron Island. The activities available beyond exploring nature include board games, ping-pong, and tennis. The only televisions are located in the bar and while two computers with internet access and two pay phones are provided, the lack of wi-fi and cellular receptions means almost no one is “plugged-in.” This lack of electric-powered devices allows the solar panels placed on the roofs of many buildings to provide much of the power needed to run the island. Additionally, minimal light pollution means spectacular views of the stars. Heron Island is a World Heritage Listed area, meaning that both the island and the island-life are protected. At Heron Island, eco-tourism efforts are in full swing with both the activities available and what the island itself has to offer. Lessons on how to interact with nature are mandatory and that helps to keep the massive bird, fish, coral, turtle, and even whale population healthy and happy. The organization Ecotourism Australia even awarded the resort with Advanced Eco-Certification. While both dive and snorkel boats are available daily for a cost, I found that the most enjoyable activities were free. Hosted by the naturalists on the island, there are bird walks which draw attention to the great diversity of bird-life, as well as reef walks on which you can experience the Great Barrier Reef in an up-close and exciting way. With thousands of birds and hundreds of different types of coral, not to mention the diversity of fish and sea cucumbers, an enjoyment of nature is hard to avoid on Heron Island. While eco-tourism exists all over the world, it is not just green-washing in Australia. While very similar to the United States in many attitudes and lifestyles, the Australian way of life is inherently different. The country is an island, with the vast majority of population residing on the coasts. For Australia, global warming is an incredibly real and serious threat. Beyond the threat of ocean level rise for the mainland, due to the rise of ocean temperatures with global warming, the coral reef is also threatened. According to the World Wildlife Fund, climate change has already adversely affected the reef. A recent report from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority predicts that if the carbon dioxide levels reach the predicted 450 parts per million by 2035, that would mean extreme bleaching of coral which would diminish that ability of the reef to make new coral. Some predict that by 2050, the reef would be completely dead. This unfortunate problem is part of the reason why Australia is fighting hard against climate change and their eco-tourism efforts are a great example of this commitment. Heron Island is a wonderful place with an amazing amount of nature to experience. For more information on booking and activities, check out the Heron Island website. As different seasons mean different animals are active, the Heron Island bio calendar will help you to discover when your favorite animals are around. Image Credit: Heron Island

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2 Comments:

OpenID Michelle said...

Australia is definitely a top location for eco tourism, the barrier reef alone is a big draw. Central America is also on the rise for eco tourism because of its diverse flora and fauna from costa rica to el salvador!

11/10/2009 03:19:00 PM  
OpenID Michelle said...

Australia is definitely a top location for eco tourism, the barrier reef alone is a big draw. Central America is also on the rise for eco tourism because of its diverse flora and fauna from costa rica to el salvador!

11/10/2009 03:19:00 PM  

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