During the winter break of this year, the Haub School developed a new course that considered the different landscapes across Queensland, Australia. Our ‘guinea pig’ group travelled from a large scale, highly populated landscape, to a small scale, self-sustaining, area over a period of three weeks. We began in Brisbane, a bustling city of two million people and ended at Lady Elliot Island, home to only a few full-time residents. Lady Elliot is one example of ecotourism resorts that are becoming more popular for Australians to visit. These areas strive to preserve the natural areas that bring in many visitors, while still allowing these visitors to become fully immersed in the beauty surrounding the resort. This island is almost entirely self-sufficient.
The island generates its own water, electricity, and handles almost all waste it produces. They are forced to be self-sufficient since this island can only be reached by a very small airplane and infrequent trips by boats. The scale to which they can run this island off a mostly self-sustaining guideline is very impressive. All their water is processed through a desalination plant located on the backside of the island. Electricity to power the whole island is generated from a small field of solar panels hooked up to an incredibly large array of batteries for storage. At the start of our visit, one of the employees gave us a basic tour of the island and educated us in the goals the island had to keep the status of an ecotourism hot spot. They explained the importance of only taking what you will eat to keep the amount of food waste they produce down and to only take showers when necessary and to be aware of the amount of time that you take. A majority of the waste they create is compostable through the on-site composting apparatus (OSCA) that utilizes natural bacteria and filters to be able to break down all types of food waste, including sea food, meat, and dairy products. This composter helps the island to create marketable compost from the food scraps that people throw away on the island. Since the island doesn’t have soil, just ground up coral as a medium, there is no feasible way (so far) that they can grow their own food on the island. This is one of the only ways that they are not able to sustain themselves, and so they still must rely on the infrequent visitations of boats to bring supplies like food to the island.
The employees who reside on the island take great care to educate visitors about how to treat the reef with respect. Our group took a reef walk through the guidance of one of our instructors from the University of Sunshine Coast and were given a great amount of preparation for what we could and couldn’t do and how our actions were impacting the life amongst the coral that we were walking through. We were also encouraged to wear reef safe sunscreen to make sure that our impact on the reef was as minimal as possible.
We visited several other ecotourism areas, but this one was the most impressive since it had to be self-sustaining. A great amount of planning was put into this resort to ensure that this area could be enjoyed and protected at the same time.
Although there may be areas like Lady Elliot in the U.S., the experiences I had abroad learning about the different ways Australians’ are sustainable opened my eyes to how big and different the world really is. Australia’s society has very different values to those that Americans share, even though we share a similar ancestry. These values drive the choices that people make every day of their lives and shape our societies. Many students at the University have studied abroad, and all will encourage you to do the same. UW offers great programs abroad that everyone should take advantage of while they are in college and still have time to experience other places. All countries handle the concept of sustainability differently and it is valuable for us to know and understand why these concepts vary and how we can use this knowledge to spread knowledge in ways that anyone can utilize it.
Read more stories, written by students, about our day by day adventures in Australia!
Get Out and See the World!