Be Green When Travelling Down Under: Ecotourism in Australia

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Australia is regarded as one of the world’s leading ecotourism destinations and eco-conscious and culturally conscious travelers are welcome in the Land Down Under. For many of us, the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss are a sensitive and urgent subject, and we want to engage in travel practices that minimizes our environmental footprint. We also want to be guided by an awareness and a respect for indigenous cultures and learn from their deep connection to country.

Thorsborne-Trail-Hinchinbrook-Island-National-Park-Parks-and-forests-Department-of-Environment-and-Science,
Thorsborne Trail Hinchinbrook Island National Park. Credit Parks-and-forests-Department of Environment and Science

By insisting on a high standard prior to and during travel we can still experience extraordinary landscapes knowing that we are doing our bit- indeed overseas and interstate tourists are in a powerful position to insist that strong ecotourism and culturally appropriate standards are implemented and maintained by local operators

The Jumbo Jet in the Room

Alright, let’s deal with the Jumbo Jet in the room. It is widely understood that airline travel is not exactly environmentally sensitive!

So. lets have a look at some of the practices such as creating a travel plan eco-conscious and culturally conscious travel to and in Australia and how minimize environmental impact at every step of the journey and make a contribution to a greener and more just planet in the process. We acknowledge that the vast distances in Australia mean that anyone holidaying or working across cities will need to take an internal flight – lets just take that into consideration and fully explore alternatives and offsets as part of our eco-conscious planning.

Aviation’s Impact on Global Warming

Researchers have computed that aviation is responsible for approximately 4% of human-induced global warming, surpassing the contributions of many individual countries. When jet fuel undergoes combustion, it releases not only carbon dioxide (CO2) but also non-CO2 emissions such as nitrogen oxides, soot, water vapor, and sulfate aerosols. These emissions interact with the atmosphere, exerting diverse effects on the climate over varying time frames.

british_airways_jumbo
British Airways have phased out the Jumbo and offer a carbon offset as part of their travel options- but still quite a good play on an Elephant in the Room!

Despite significant attention and investment in the development of sustainable aviation fuels, many experts argue that producing the necessary volume of fuel is not feasible and may not be the most efficient use of land resources. Addressing emissions requires a multifaceted approach, but reducing air travel remains the most impactful solution for mitigating both the environmental and health consequences of aviation.

worst_air_travel_polluters_chart
The above chart does not make happy reading and clearly some nations, including Australia, must try harder

Comparatively, airplanes emit approximately 100 times more CO2 per hour than a shared bus or train journey. Globally, aviation contributes around 1 billion tons of CO2 annually, surpassing the emissions of numerous countries, including Germany. Commercial travel accounts for the majority of aviation-related CO2 emissions, comprising an estimated 2.4% of the global annual CO2 output.

Ouch. That really hurts, so lets see what we can do to make-up for our negative impact given that we have made our mind up to visit Australia from a distance.

Before Departure: Offsetting Carbon Footprint – Choose a Direct Flight

Opting for the most direct route to your destination can significantly reduce the carbon emissions of your journey. Each takeoff and landing cycle consumes a considerable amount of fuel, so flights with layovers generally have a higher carbon footprint than non-stop flights. By choosing a direct flight, you not only save time but also contribute to reducing the environmental impact of your travel.

Select an Airline with a Green Policy and an Ecotourism Awareness

Many airlines are now recognizing the importance of sustainability and are taking steps to reduce their environmental impact. This includes investing in more fuel-efficient aircraft, implementing more efficient flight paths, reducing weight onboard to save fuel, and participating in carbon offsetting initiatives. When planning your trip, research airlines to see which ones have robust environmental policies and commitments to sustainability. For example:

  • Qantas: Offers a “Fly Carbon Neutral” program where passengers can offset their share of flight emissions by contributing to projects that combat climate change, including protecting forests and supporting renewable energy.
qantas_plane
Qantas, Australia’s national carrier, offers a fly carbon neutral option
  • Delta Air Lines: Has a carbon offset program where travelers can calculate their flight’s carbon emissions and purchase offsets. Delta also aims for carbon neutrality by investing in renewable energy projects and sustainable aviation fuels.
  • British Airways: Provides an option for passengers to offset their carbon emissions by investing in carbon reduction projects around the world, including renewable energy, forestation, and community projects.
  • United Airlines has pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 50% by 2050 and is pioneering the use of electrically-powered flights with the Heart Aerospace ES-30, aiming for a launch by 2030
  • Cathay Pacific offers the ‘Fly Greener’ program, allowing passengers to offset the carbon emissions from their flights. The airline provides an online carbon offset calculator to facilitate this process
  • China Airlines provides an ‘ECO TRAVEL Carbon Offsetting’ service, enabling passengers to contribute to carbon reduction projects to offset their flight emissions .
  • SAS Scandinavian Airlines has set a goal to reduce carbon emissions by 25% by 2030 and offers a carbon offsetting program for all Business, Youth, and EuroBonus passengers.

Please conduct your own research as the above is an indicative list as of February 2024 and these things change. We are not endorsing anyone airline over another, however, those that have a Fly Greener Program are to be encouraged whilst scrutinizing the detail of their offering.

Purchase Carbon Offsets

If your chosen airline does not offer a direct way to offset your flight’s carbon emissions, you can still take action independently. Numerous third-party organizations offer carbon offsetting, where your financial contribution goes towards projects that reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, effectively balancing out the emissions from your flight. When purchasing carbon offsets, it’s crucial to ensure that the projects you’re supporting are credible and have a real impact on reducing greenhouse gases. Look for offsets certified by standards like the Gold Standard or Verified Carbon Standard, which ensure that projects meet rigorous environmental and social criteria. Examples of offsetting projects include:

  • Reforestation and forest conservation: Planting trees or protecting forests to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.
  • Renewable energy projects: Investing in wind, solar, or hydroelectric power projects that reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
  • Community projects: Supporting initiatives like efficient cookstoves in developing countries, which reduce carbon emissions and improve local living conditions.
reaforestation_greenfleet
As an example of offsets, For over 25 years, Greenfleet has been restoring legally protected native forests in Australia and New Zealand with 550 forests created, and over 10,300 hectares

By taking these steps before departure, eco-conscious travelers can mitigate the environmental impact of their air travel and contribute to global efforts to combat climate change.

Support for Australian Conservation Organisations

Australia has a very active Non-Government Organisation sector (NGO’s) involved in protecting the local environment. A donation, membership or stint volunteering for any them whilst here might serve as a good carbon-off set strategy to deal with plane use guilt!

Worthy organisations for consideration include: The Wilderness SocietyAustralian Conservation FoundationGreenpeace AustrlaliaThe Koala Foundation

wilderness_society_community_campaigners
The Wilderness Society is one Australia’s most effective and long standing environmental organisations

Upon Arrival: Sustainable Itinerary Planning for an Ecotourism Holiday

Accommodation

Choosing where to stay is a crucial part of your travel planning, especially for the eco-conscious traveler. Eco-friendly accommodations are those that have a minimal impact on the environment and, often, a positive impact on the local community. In Australia, look for lodgings that are certified by Ecotourism Australia’s ECO Certification program. This certification assures that the accommodations not only use resources wisely (like water and energy-saving measures) but also contribute to conservation efforts and help the local community in tangible ways. Examples include:

  • Solar-powered lodgings: Staying in places that use solar energy for their electricity needs reduces reliance on fossil fuels.
  • Rainwater harvesting and greywater recycling: Accommodations that implement these systems lessen their impact on the local water supply.
  • Organic and biodegradable amenities: Properties that provide organic toiletries and use biodegradable cleaning products minimize their chemical footprint.
solar_cabin_vineyard_yanko_design
An example of a solar cabin with electric bikes in the track. Cabin by Yanko Design

Transportation

Once you’ve arrived, how you choose to get around can significantly impact your carbon footprint. Australia offers various eco-friendly transportation options:

  • Public Transport: Utilizing Australia’s extensive network of trains, buses, and trams is an excellent way to reduce your travel-related emissions. Cities like Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane have efficient public transport systems that can get you to most places of interest. Traveling interstate is possible by bus.
  • Bike Rentals: Many Australian cities are bike-friendly, with dedicated bike lanes and trails. Renting a bike or using a bike-share program is not only a green way to travel but also allows you to enjoy the outdoors and get some exercise.
  • Electric Vehicle (EV) Hire: As the availability of EVs increases, consider renting an electric car for longer distances. This option significantly reduces emissions compared to traditional petrol or diesel vehicles. Ensure you plan your routes around EV charging stations as once you get out into the regions charging options are limited at present.
  • Plane: – We would be kidding you if we said that some plane travel is likely, given Australia’s vast distances. Put your carbon off-set plan into action to take this into consideration. Minimize flying if possible and get together with friends, old or new, to split the coat of a car hire
  • Bike: – Plan legs of your trip, or explore a region on a bike. Bicycle hire is readily available from most major and regional centers.
Cycling_holiday_in_Australia
Getting around on a bike in Australia for all, or part of your holiday works on so many different levels

Local Produce and Dining Promotes Ecotourism

Embracing the local food scene is not only a way to immerse yourself in Australian culture but also to eat sustainably. Australia’s farm-to-table culture is thriving, with many restaurants and cafes prioritizing locally sourced and seasonal ingredients. This practice supports local farmers, reduces transportation emissions, and often results in fresher, more flavorful food. When dining out, look for:

  • Farm-to-table restaurants: These establishments highlight their use of local, often organic, ingredients, directly supporting local agriculture.
  • Farmers’ markets: A great way to support local producers directly. You can find fresh produce, artisanal goods, and sometimes even pick up a locally made souvenir.
  • Sustainable seafood: Australia, being surrounded by ocean, has a rich seafood culture. Look for places that offer sustainably sourced seafood to enjoy the ocean’s bounty without contributing to overfishing.
farmers_markets_australia
Australia is blessed with many farmers markets throughout the nation

By making mindful choices about accommodation, transportation, and dining, you can ensure that your visit to Australia is not only memorable but also aligns with the highest ecological standards, contributing positively to the environment and local communities

Activities to Embrace

National Parks and Protected Areas

Australia’s natural landscapes are both diverse and breathtaking, with national parks and World Heritage sites offering a glimpse into the country’s unique ecosystems. When visiting places like the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, and the Daintree Rainforest, it’s crucial to do so responsibly:

  • Follow Leave No Trace Principles: This includes staying on marked trails, taking all rubbish with you, and not disturbing wildlife or natural habitats.
  • Educate Yourself on Local Regulations: Some areas may have specific rules to protect sensitive environments, such as limitations on where you can swim or what you can take.
  • Choose Responsible Tour Operators: When joining guided tours, ensure they are accredited and follow eco-friendly practices.
FS_Sustainable Experiences Calypso
Sustainable ecotourism guides tour operators on the Great Barrier Reef

CHECK OUT OUR EXTENSIVE GUIDE TO MANY OF AUSTRALIA’S NATIONAL PARKS

Eco-Tours

Eco-tours provide immersive experiences that are both educational and minimal in their environmental impact. By choosing tours certified by Ecotourism Australia, you are selecting experiences that:

  • Promote Conservation: These tours contribute directly to the preservation of natural areas and wildlife.
  • Support Local Communities: Many eco-tours involve and benefit local communities, ensuring that tourism has a positive social impact.
  • Educate Participants: Learn about local ecosystems, cultural heritage, and conservation efforts through guided tours that prioritize environmental education.

Volunteering

Volunteering for conservation projects is a rewarding way to give back to the places you visit. Opportunities range from a single day to several weeks and can include activities like:

  • Habitat Restoration: Assist in projects that restore native vegetation, remove invasive species, or rehabilitate degraded landscapes.
  • Wildlife Surveys: Participate in data collection and monitoring projects that contribute to scientific research and conservation strategies.
  • Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation: Help in rescuing, caring for, and rehabilitating injured or orphaned wildlife with local organizations.
volunteers_tree_planting
Schedule some conservation volunteering work whilst in Australia, especially on a longer holiday

Cultural Experiences: Engaging with Indigenous Cultures

Australia’s Indigenous cultures, including those of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, are among the oldest living cultural histories in the world. Engaging with these cultures through respectful and authentic experiences can deeply enrich your understanding of Australia and contribute to the preservation and recognition of its Indigenous heritage.

uluru-maruku-arts-painting-workshop-credit-tourism-australia-and-shaana-mcnaught
Uluru Maruku Painting Workshop. Credit-Tourism Australia and Shaana Mcnaught

Support Indigenous Businesses

When you choose Indigenous-led tours, art galleries, cultural centers, and other Indigenous-owned businesses, you’re directly contributing to the economic empowerment of Indigenous communities. This support helps:

  • Sustain Traditional Practices: Many Indigenous businesses are involved in practices that have been passed down for generations, including art, storytelling, and land management.
  • Promote Cultural Autonomy: Supporting these enterprises enables Indigenous communities to maintain and control the representation of their culture.
  • Foster Economic Independence: Economic benefits from tourism can support community projects, education, and healthcare improvements within Indigenous communities.

Learn From Traditional Knowledge

Indigenous-led cultural experiences offer invaluable insights into the traditional knowledge systems that have been developed over tens of thousands of years. Participating in these experiences allows you to:

  • Understand the Land: Learn about the spiritual and practical relationships that Indigenous peoples have with the Australian landscape, including traditional land management practices like “cultural burning.”
  • Appreciate Indigenous Art and Stories: Indigenous art and storytelling are rich with symbolism and provide a narrative of connection to the land, history, and spirituality.
  • Discover Traditional Uses of Plants and Animals: Indigenous guides can share knowledge about the land’s flora and fauna, including their uses for food, medicine, and tools.
Anangu-People-Uluru
The Anangu People are the traditional custodians of Uluru

Respect Cultural Heritage

Engaging respectfully with Indigenous cultures means recognizing and honoring the significance of sacred sites, traditions, and stories. It’s important to:

  • Follow Guidelines and Protocols: When visiting sacred sites or participating in cultural ceremonies, always adhere to the guidelines set by Indigenous communities to ensure respect for their traditions and beliefs.
  • Listen and Learn: Approach these experiences with an open mind and a willingness to listen and learn from Indigenous peoples’ perspectives.
  • Acknowledge Indigenous Custodianship: Recognize the ongoing connection and custodianship Indigenous peoples have with the land, often acknowledged through “Welcome to Country” and “Acknowledgment of Country” ceremonies at events and gatherings.

By actively engaging in cultural experiences with Indigenous peoples, travelers not only enrich their understanding of Australia’s cultural landscape but also participate in a form of sustainable tourism that respects and preserves the world’s oldest living cultures. These experiences foster mutual respect and understanding, contributing to reconciliation efforts and the preservation of Indigenous heritage for future generations.

Activities to Avoid

Environmentally Damaging Recreational Activities

Engaging in activities that can harm the environment contradicts the principles of eco-friendly travel. It’s important to be mindful of the activities you choose and their potential impact on natural habitats:

  • Jet Skiing in Sensitive Marine Areas: The noise and water disturbance caused by jet skis can be harmful to marine life, including disrupting the feeding and breeding behaviors of aquatic animals. Better still, why not avoid Jet Skiing altogether!
  • Off-Road Driving in Protected Areas: Driving off designated roads can lead to soil erosion, vegetation damage, and disturbance to wildlife habitats. Always stick to marked trails and roads. We strongly discourage 4-wheel driving in designated wilderness areas or along sensitive beaches.
  • Activities Causing Wildlife Disturbance: Activities like loud music in natural settings or approaching too close to wildlife can stress animals and interfere with their natural behaviors. Always observe wildlife from a safe and respectful distance.
four_wheel_drive_damage_in_queensland
If you are in a 4-wheel drive vehicle please do not drive in sensitive areas. The area in the Queensland national park above above received over $50,000 worth of damage due to inconsiderate 4-wheel drivers

Over-Touristed Sites

Popular tourist destinations can suffer from environmental degradation, infrastructure strain, and cultural dilution due to excessive visitor numbers, especially during peak travel seasons:

  • Seek Alternatives to Crowded Landmarks: Research less-visited natural wonders and cultural sites that offer similar experiences without the crowds. This not only alleviates pressure on popular sites but also spreads the economic benefits of tourism.
  • Visit During Off-Peak Times: If you must visit a well-known site, try to do so during off-peak times to reduce your contribution to crowding and enjoy a more sustainable visit.
bondi_beach_ove_crowded
Bondi Beach can get a little too cozy in peak times!

Unethical Wildlife Interactions

Interactions with wildlife should always be ethical and respectful, ensuring the well-being of the animals involved:

  • Avoid Attractions with Animal Performances: Attractions that involve animals performing for entertainment often compromise animal welfare and do not contribute to conservation efforts.
  • Be Wary of “Wildlife Selfie” Opportunities: Close encounters with wildlife for the sake of photographs can be stressful for the animals and sometimes involve sedation or restraint.
  • Research Wildlife Sanctuaries and Zoos: Before visiting a wildlife sanctuary or zoo, research their conservation efforts, animal welfare standards, and educational value to ensure they operate ethically.
adelaide_zoo_animals
Adelaide Zoo has a mix of exotic and native animals and is great for a family day out. Australia’s zoos operate to the highest global standard with animal welfare an conservation efforts at the forefront of considerations. Image credit Adelaide Zoo

By avoiding these activities, travelers can minimize their negative impact on the environment and local communities, ensuring their visit contributes positively to the preservation and appreciation of Australia’s natural and cultural heritage.

Checkout Ecotourism Australia -Australia’s professional peak ecotourism body

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