Can you remember how we started in 2020?
It was a time of wildfires, flash floods, earthquakes and international talks about overtourism: crowded beaches, depleting resources, scattered litter and bad waste management became the new normal. But today, those beaches and small coastal villages are empty, pristine with air that is definitely clearer. As people stay home, mother earth has started to repair itself.
Streams started running clear again, wildlife started returning to waterways as seen in Venice Italy and culture saw a revival as nature has strengthened itself again. It is now that most of us started thinking about how COVID could have been a catalyst for beneficial change and how it could highlight ways of changing the world for the better.
COVID has definitely shaken the world in various ways and we are not taking away from the horrific journey nations had to endure during these last couple of months, but we can say with confidence that the tourism industry is already looking into ways how travel post-Covid-19 can change for the betterment of the people and our planet.
Meridian Adventure has been focused on eco-tourism since its inception in 2017 but has still taken this time during lockdown to reflect on ways to enhance the message, better the ways we work and find more sustainable operations to help our future generations avoid the same mistakes we have made in the past.
It is important to:
Let destinations breath
Let locals prosper
Be conscientious on our journey and,
Find ways to make memories without overconsumption and excessive waste
Crowds, commercial boats/cruises/buses, packed beaches and dive sites are all focused on short-term profit and not focusing on long-term sustainability (for both the economy and nature). We have seen how cruise ships and liveaboards have come to damage thousand-year-old coral reefs, and the Great Pacific Gyre growing by the second as people’s waste accumulate into sludge in the middle of the ocean. These are the tracks we leave behind as we took this place for granted and found ways to overpopulate, overexert and overconsume when we travel.
Here is where we see the future of tourism going:
High value, low volume
No need for a cruise ship to anchor with over 8000 tourists disembarking on the fragile soil of coastal villages or tour buses trampling inland archaeological areas. With social distancing, we have become accustomed to smaller groups, more space and lower volumes of people and the future of tourism will start focusing on lower traffic excursions that abide by the local regulatory bodies that manage the sites. High value refers to a better experience since you will actually be able to engage with your surroundings – get to see the Mona Lisa close up and not from the back of a crowded group of people. Low volume tourism also guarantees local interaction, education and community engagement around a fire or at a local fishing boat where the community gathers for their daily fresh catch.
Our hotel has been built with low traffic in mind from the start and with only 30 rooms, we’ve never been focused on bringing the masses to Raja Ampat. Small, intimate groups bring forth a more enriching experience and allow us to take you to those unknown hidden dive spots in Raja Ampat, without disrupting the eco-system that surrounds us.
Locals before visitors
Investing in local businesses will become key to future tourism, ensuring the people who reap the profit are also custodians of the region – having the prosperity of both the people and the natural area at the heart of everything they do. We are merely visitors to their home and we need to ensure we leave nothing of ourselves behind, whether that be waste, unwanted traffic or damage to their way of living.
In Raja Ampat, we have followed an organisational rule of extending the business to locals first, and if the skills do not exist in the area yet – finding ways to train and share knowledge as far as we possibly can. We train all staff members to dive, even if they work in reception and bring over two decades of superyacht experience to the hospitality sector in the area. We are however looking into more ways we can connect with local businesses in the area.
It is crucial for destinations to rebuild in such a manner that their economies serve their locals first and foremost. Catering to travellers should come second.
Investing in clean technology
Finding ways to reduce or optimise the use of natural resources whilst simultaneously reducing the negative effect that technology has on the planet and its ecosystems in the way forward.
Electric cars, solar-powered buildings, no print travel expos – a lot of research needs to start going into ways we can optimise sustainability through the tools we use every day in business.
Examples of cleaner technology related to the tourism sector include:
Tertiary treated sewage used for irrigation;
Metals, glass, and plastics recycling;
Compost from organic solid waste;
Use of renewable energy sources;
Smart building design to reduce energy demand for lighting and cooling systems.
In a sustainable economy, the fish catch does not exceed the sustainable yield of fisheries, the amount of water pumped from underground aquifers does not exceed aquifer recharge, soil erosion does not exceed the natural rate of new soil formation, tree cutting does not exceed tree planting, carbon emissions do not exceed the capacity of nature to fix atmospheric CO2, and plant and animal species are not destroyed faster than new ones evolve.
At Meridian Adventure Dive, we have focused on building our own eco-focused dive boats that do not anchor on coral reefs, do not use anti-foul paint and do not release sewage into the water. Above and beyond our transport system, we also have the following focus points that make our resort a cut above the rest when it comes to eco-tourism.
What are we doing about Water?
Greywater and black water treatment plant – On-site STP that uses natural bacteria to systematically break down waste to a safe and balanced PH level before being released.
Daily inspections of pipes and water system for leaks to ensure no wastage
Faucet aerators are implemented
Toilets have full/reduced flush options
Stormwater and borehole collection and filtration for use in the hotel. Water treatment plant does not use any chemicals to treat water used in the hotel but rather carbon and sand filters to treat collected water. A vulcanising system is also used to further treat the water.
What are we doing about Energy use?
LED pool lights
Insulated ceiling & ducts
Phantom power conservation
AC unit maintenance
Rechargeable batteries used
Energy Star appliances
Energy Reduction plans
What are we doing about Transportation (dive boats)?
Low emission tender engines
Regularly scheduled maintenance
No antifouling paint on boats
Phosphate-free biodegradable cleaning products
No use of anchors at dive sites
What are we doing about Waste Management?
Use of reusable bottles
Use of reusable bags
Double-sided printing set on printers
eNewsletter vs mailed
Email communication vs paper
Paperless document storage
Light pollution reduction
HVAC permanent filters
Carbon monoxide detector
Pollutant/tobacco smoke control
Green cleaning/maintenance policy
What are we doing about Green Practices & Materials?
Bio- safe cleaners/sustainable cleaning products used
Local and sustainable food purchases
Materials/Equipment ordering online
Environmental pest management
No Chemicals/Fertilizer used in the garden
What are our Conservation efforts?
Project AWARE (PADI) events and activities
Display of environmental awareness materials
Environmental data collection contribution
Active support of conservation legislation/management within the area