Australia’s first underwater hotel poses moral dilemma for tourists

An underwater hotel has been built next to the Great Barrier Reef and Australians are losing their minds.

Some love it. Some despise him. And some are in conflict. Why? Reefsuites is spectacular. It consists of two suites suspended under a pontoon and offers you an incredible view of the underwater world (there are also 28 swag type tents available to book and sleep on the upper pontoon deck).

But it’s also luxurious. So, like any luxury hotel, it inevitably adds to the very problem that is destroying the reef: climate change.

Before going into details, a bit of background. Reefsuites is Australia’s first underwater hotel. It opened in December 2019 right next to Hardy Reef and is run by Cruise Whitsundays.

It’s not easy to get there. It takes an hour and a half flight to Airlie Beach from Brisbane, then three more hours by boat. When you get there, it’s worth it: you can see over 1,000 species of fish, turtles, rays and giant grouse turtle-eaters through your giant windows.

The Reefsuites hashtag on Instagram is full of envy-inducing photos and gushing testimonials, showing off what appears to be a dream vacation experience.

Twitter is also full of people calling it their “new dream vacation” and making comments like “Wow! It looks amazing.

Another wrote: ‘While I would love to have the experience, building hotels in the endangered Great Reef does not seem prudent or conservation compliant. But conscience in hand, wow!

Others threw less punches, writing comments like, “Reefsuites…we’re a virus.”

Reefsuites says reef experts and conservationists were consulted every step of the way. According to CN TravelerLuke Walker, COO of Journey Beyond, the parent company of Cruise Whitsundays, said: “Having fully submerged suites has no impact on the reef” and “The physical impact of adding underwater suites to a standard pontoon design is negligible. ”

“We have received significant input from GBRMPA to ensure the protection of the reef at every stage of development.”

Luke Walker

Marine biologist Johnny Gaskell, CN Traveler reports, said, “As far as I know, Reefsuites has no more impact on the reef than having a boat there.”

“Furthermore, any small impact is outweighed by the value it brings. It’s one thing to snorkel or fish for the day, and quite another to spend the night underwater surrounded by marine life. It allows people to make a connection to the environment that they wouldn’t otherwise have, and that makes all the difference.

Reefsuites are also promoted for their economic benefits, as they bring more visitors and more money to the reef, which helps in its protection and management.

On that note, they’re right: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chief scientist Dr. David Wachenfeld told DMARGE in 2020 that tourists are key to funding reef management.

“Although the Great Barrier Reef receives around two million visitors a year, these visitors are visiting a marine park that is larger than two-thirds of the countries on the planet,” Wachenfeld told DMARGE.

“The attendance is concentrated mainly in two parts of the park,” added Mr. Wachenfeld. “The actual visitation density is really quite low, so the impact of tourism on the Great Barrier Reef is negligible.”

“I actually think tourism is having a very positive impact on the Great Barrier Reef.”

Dr David Wachenfeld

“As far as I have ever met, everyone who has ever visited and seen the Great Barrier Reef falls in love with the place and leaves with a stronger commitment to the [its] protection… and the environment more generally.

Instead of undertourism, the biggest threat to the reef is climate change – a global, not local, issue. That and insufficient funding for reef protection agencies.

“If we want to have a Great Barrier Reef, we’re going to have to up our game.”

The big question that remains then is: does staying at Reefsuites change people’s attitude towards the environment, and therefore public policy, in such a way that it outweighs the carbon emissions spent on creating the sequels (and bringing people to the reef)?

A question for scientists to ponder…

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About Brad S. Fulton

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