Climate change, urban development and plastic pollution are all big issues that affect the Great Barrier Reef and often we feel that these things are outside of our control. But actually, they’re not, and it’s the simple (little) things that add up to making a difference. Travelling and tourism often have a single-use culture – whether that’s a food container, a bottle of water, a towel, bedsheets, and even a bar of soap – everything gets used just once. Here are some tips to make your trip to the Great Barrier Reef more sustainable, including Reef Etiquette for snorkelling and diving, and how to select a sustainable tour operator.
General Tips for Sustainable Travel
- Carry a drink bottle with you and one for everyone in the family. Tap water anywhere in Queensland is perfectly safe to drink and you’ll save money on bottled water.
- Take a couple of reusable shopping bags with you and refuse single-use plastic bags wherever you go.
- Eat in – rather than take away – you’re on holidays after all – you do have time. Sit down in the café, enjoy your lunch from a plate, your drink from a glass (without a straw) and your coffee in a cup – without a lid. It tastes so much better.
- Act like you would at home. Do you have a fresh towel every day at home? Do you leave the TV and all the lights on when you leave the room? Do you have a thirty-minute shower? Just because someone else is paying that bill – it shouldn’t have to cost the planet.
- Buy carbon offsets when you fly. Many airlines offer this option when buying tickets and it’s usually less than the price of the in-flight snack.
Reef Etiquette: Tips for snorkellers and scuba divers
- New to snorkelling? Make sure you listen to the briefing on the boat before you get in the water and ask questions if unsure. If you’re not a strong swimmer, take a floatation device with you, to minimise your chances of accidentally kicking the coral.
- Competent snorkeller? Remember to keep those fins away from the coral, and away from the sand – even kicking up sediment impacts the creatures that live there and the corals that the sediment lands on.
- Don’t touch anything. Most marine life is covered with a mucus of one kind or another that helps protect it from infection. Touching fish can rub this off. Conversely, many marine animals have their own defence mechanisms which sting anything that comes into contact with it – including you.
- Scuba divers: be aware of and adhere to Project Aware’s 10 Tips for Divers to Protect the Ocean Planet
- If you want to take anything away from your visit to the Reef – take a camera – and take only memories.
Getting Serious About Sustainability?
One way you can really make a difference is to spend your money with those tour operators who are doing the right thing for the environment and the local community. This is not just about whether they source their power from renewable energy and how they manage their waste. It includes sourcing fruit, vegetables and other produce locally, and employment policies that benefit the communities in which they operate. Don’t be scared to ask questions – it shows tour operators that you care about the environment and will make your buying decisions based on their sustainable practice. Look for the ECO-Accreditation Tick marks and ask operators what level of accreditation they have.
Don’t forget to say thanks to the tour operators and establishments who are doing the right thing. Whether that’s providing bikes to get around, separate containers for recycling or chilled water for free. Everyone needs a little encouragement when they’re trying to do the right thing.