It’s the biggest dilemma in environmental tourism: how not to destroy what you’ve come to enjoy. People learn to appreciate and value the natural world when they experience it; but creating infrastructure and hosting visitors potentially puts ecologies at risk.
Eco-tourism might sound like the answer – carefully minimising human impacts on wild places. But how do you know if a so-called “eco-lodge” is as environmentally friendly as its advertising makes out? In Australia, the answer’s simple: accreditation.
Ecotourism Australia is a non-profit organisation which aims to inspire environmentally sustainable and culturally responsible tourism. According to Ecotourism Australia:
“Ecotourism is ecologically sustainable tourism with a primary focus on experiencing natural areas that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation”.
Advanced Ecotourism Accreditation is awarded to Australia’s most innovative tours, attractions, cruises and accommodation – those that lead the way in contributing to the conservation of the environment, and helping local communities.
To learn how a business achieves Advanced Ecotourism Accreditation, I visited Bloomfield Lodge in the Daintree rainforest. Nowhere else in the world do two World Heritage sites sit side by side: the Lodge is surrounded by the Daintree Rainforest, with the Great Barrier Reef just across the bay. Eco-friendly practices are vital here, and Bloomfield Lodge sets a high standard of thoughtful, sustainable resource management.
Due to limited space, solar power isn’t viable yet for the whole Lodge, though it’s used to heat the pool and run the phone system. Energy use is managed as efficiently as possible by employing energy-efficient light bulbs, and path lights with movement sensors. The main Lodge lights are turned off at night. The accommodation has been carefully designed to take advantage of the natural shade provided by the rainforest canopy, and to capture sea breezes, so there’s no need for air conditioning.
Emissions are monitored using a calculator provided by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Vehicles and vessels are serviced regularly to maintain optimal fuel efficiency. Vessels use low-emission four-stroke outboard motors. Guests are encouraged to offset their travel emissions through organisations such as Climate Friendly, and to support tourism operators who have achieved Ecotourism Australia accreditation.
Bloomfield Lodge isn’t connected to mains water. Water is provided by eight rainwater tanks with a capacity of 500,000 litres. Additional water is drawn from an onsite bore, with a licence issued by the Department of Natural Resources and Mines (DNRM).
Gardens are mulched and managed so that no irrigation is required. In a recent refit of bathrooms, low-flow showers, dual toilet flush and tap aerators have been installed. Guests are asked to conserve water where possible. Linen is changed at guests’ request only, to minimise unnecessary washing.
The Lodge has a policy of recycling everything that can be recycled. Kitchen scraps are composted, garden matter is mulched. Glass, cans, plastic, and printer cartridges are recycled through the appropriate channels. Old newspapers go to the Young Animal Protection Society for animal bedding. The Lodge reduces paper consumption wherever possible: key marketing activities are conducted online. Outgoing emails carry a no-print email footer, and the office uses recycled paper.
Rainforest walks are restricted to narrow trails, clearly marked. Visitors on walks are usually accompanied by a guide, who provides education about native flora and fauna. Guides are deeply protective of the environment, and encourage guests to be sensitive to their surroundings at all times.
Lodge staff play an active role in monitoring change and the general health of the Great Barrier Reef, reporting anything unusual to the Marine Park Authority. All touring, fishing, snorkelling and whale-watching activities are carried out in line with Great Barrier Reef zoning regulations and relevant codes of practice.
The guides are thoroughly informed and entertaining presenters, and the library is well-stocked with reference books should guests wish to enquire more deeply into specific environmental questions. Guests can also choose to support the local Turtle Conversation facility. It’s the aim of Bloomfield Lodge that all visitors leave with a greater understanding and appreciation of the natural environment, and how to protect it.