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The sustainability promise

Words by Tanya Snelling

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Port Douglas and Daintree is more than just a destination widely admired for its outstanding natural beauty, rich Indigenous cultural connections, diverse and ancient ecosystems, and the Great Barrier Reef. It is a place green at heart, sharing a collective vision across industry, business, government and community, to ensure its continued legacy as Australia’s first ECO Certified Destination.

The Douglas Shire’s sustainability story began in 1983 with one of the largest environmental protests ever seen in Australia. While progress was seen with the establishment of dairying, timber and other agricultural industries in the 1960s around the communities of Port Douglas and Mossman, the northern bank of the Daintree River and beyond was largely an untouched frontier, that is, until the bulldozers arrived. Protestors tried to stop the machines in their tracks – literally – and in August 1984, the famous Daintree Blockade came to a head. Though their protests didn’t stop the road from being cleared, they did bring enormous attention to the Daintree first nationally and then internationally, ultimately leading to its salvation when in 1988 it was declared a sanctuary under the protection of World Heritage Area status.

Tara Bennett, chief executive officer of Tourism Port Douglas Daintree, says while the Daintree Rainforest, Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, and the adjoining Great Barrier Reef are today universally acknowledged as stunningly beautiful, scientifically significant and culturally important, with that comes responsibility.

“Our shared vision to build a strong, culturally inclusive, sustainable community continues to gather momentum. Different sectors have a role to play and we are seeing examples of this from urban planning and design within local government to educators celebrating Yalanji culture and language in local schools.” Tara says you only have to look out the window to see no building in Port Douglas is higher than the tallest palm tree (three stories), interpretive signage throughout the region that recognises and pays homage to the traditional KuKu Yalanji language and, in a Queensland first, the Douglas Shire Council adopted a Coastal Resilience Strategy to better manage and understand environmental impacts on the coastline.

Also, in an historic occasion, country of huge cultural, environmental and global significance, encompassing the Daintree, Ngalba-bulal, Kalkajaka and the Hope Islands National Parks was formally handed back to the Eastern Kuku Yalanji People in September last year. “This was an important day for the Eastern Kuku Yalanji People, with the parks now jointly managed by traditional owners and the Queensland government, with the intention to eventually be wholly managed by the Eastern Kuku Yalanji Bama,” Tara explains. “This provides exciting new pathways and opportunities for mentoring, training, apprenticeships and employment on country.”

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Cultural Connections

One such organisation doing this very well is the Mossman Gorge Cultural Centre. The KuKu Yalanji People have been passing their stories down through the generations for thousands of years and their history and culture is all through the surrounding rainforest mountains. But it was the vision of elder Roy Gibson, who began offering Dreamtime Walks in the 1980s, who believed they could offer something truly special, keeping their culture alive, while at the same time supporting environmental and economic wellbeing for the entire community. In 2012, his dream became reality, and today the Mossman Gorge Cultural Centre sets the benchmark as an award-winning eco-tourism experience and an economic driver for the Mossman region and nearby residents.

The Centre provides visitors with a unique mix of experiences: cultural, historical, and environmental. In addition to welcoming guests to the world’s oldest continually

surviving rainforest, it provides a valuable connection to the Indigenous community and protects a vulnerable ecosystem. “Mossman Gorge Cultural Centre has become a global leader in its sustainability effort,” Ms Bennett adds.

Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort Port Douglas Hero

Luxury Stays

Time spent in the World Heritage Daintree Rainforest is an experience that can never be forgotten, according to Jody Westbrook, general manager at the Daintree Ecolodge, and for those visitors looking to tread lightly, a visit to the Ecolodge, promises this and more. Striving to achieve 100% sustainability, the Daintree Ecolodge uses the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as the framework to help focus its efforts. Jody says the natural environment sits at the heart of the guest experience, with the 15 eco-friendly treehouse bayans making the most of the unspoiled setting of rainforest, waterfalls and wildlife.

“We are continuously expanding our efforts to tackle sustainability and environmental issues by focusing on the goals where we think we can have the most impact. Solar power, toxic free cleaning, active tree planting initiatives, waste reduction, removal of single use plastics, sourcing food locally, utilising local supply chains, while also supporting charitable initiatives through the Morris Family Foundation Reef Keepers Fund, are just some of the steps we have taken,” Jody said.

For the Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort Port Douglas, making a strong commitment to “meaningful travel” has been incredibly rewarding. Not only has the Port Douglas hotel incorporated improved sustainability practices across its operations, it also offers ‘Good Travel’ with Marriott Bonvoy, which gives its guests the opportunity to have a positive impact as they build deeper connections with the local community and contribute meaningfully across its environmental protection initiatives.

“Our property, in partnership with the Tangaroa Blue Foundation, provides guests with the opportunity to make a direct impact on the conservation of the Great Barrier Reef through a hands- on beach ‘citizen scientist’ program,” Deb McDiarmid, director of marketing, explains. “We embrace our global responsibility and unique opportunity to be a force for good and we are committed to creating a positive and sustainable impact in every area of the business.”

Other initiatives include reducing single use plastics. “We were using more than 130,000 plastic water bottles each year to keep our guests hydrated. We are now leading the way to go plastic free – we ask our guests to support our goal and eliminate this waste by purchasing a $5 reusable water bottle. To boost this saving, we provide an extensive network of Vestal refill stations, providing an unlimited supply of drinking water during their stay.”

Eco Ambassadors

Known for innovation and excellence in guided nature tours, Sailaway, a nationally awarded sustainability winner, has walked the environmental talk for over three decades. Its business ethos is to “go lightly to deliver a big message”, helping to protect the Great Barrier Reef for future generations and encouraging and inspiring guests to become environmental ambassadors. In 2009, Sailaway established Eco Shamba Tree Farm Port Douglas on a 68- acre former cane paddock. Today, it is a leading example of how sustainable reforestation and carbon offsetting initiatives can be incorporated into business.

Quicksilver Cruises is also credited with helping to pave the way for responsible and sustainable tourism. As one of Australia’s first ecotourism innovators, Quicksilver’s long-term approach to conservation and sustainability began in an era before the term “ecotourism” existed and participated in Ecotourism Australia’s pilot accreditation scheme in 1996 to develop its significant environmental program.

Wildlife Encounters

Eco tourism and wildlife experiences go hand in hand, and nothing gives guests more of a thrill than spotting a crocodile or bird of prey in its natural habitat, according to Lady Douglas River Cruise owner/skipper Lucas Agrums. The ECO-Certified operator has been cruising the Estuarine Conservation Zone of Dickson Inlet in Port Douglas since 1989, meandering through unspoilt mangrove channels.

“The tour is eco based, environmentally friendly, and we are careful not to leave even a footprint where we go. Our guests love the commentary they receive, learning the history of Port Douglas, seeing local landmarks and enjoying a few funny local stories along the way. We are incredibly proud of our history as one of the first boats to be built in the marina, and today, still an original boat operating.”

Tackling Food Waste

One restaurant that is no stranger to innovation is Salsa Bar and Grill. Nationally revered, this award-winning restaurant is tackling the issue of waste head on. Working with Green Food Australia, it is converting its food and vegetative waste into soil regenerating solutions as a liquid and a solid.

For Green Food Australia visioner Jess Uhlig “tackling food waste and the way people think about their waste is at the very heart” of who they are. “Being able to use restaurant waste, otherwise headed for landfill, to regenerate soil and close the loop to grow our next generations food is imperative,” she explains. “Food security is a global issue now and for us to be able to contribute to our local food security is paramount.”

These examples are just a few of the shining lights in Port Douglas and Daintree’s tourism industry, Tara Bennett adds. “In every corner of our Shire, you will find inspiring examples of people making a positive impact – all of which have had a hand in helping the region become one of the world’s most sustainable destinations

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