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Published on Tuesday, June 30, 2009

More than meets the eye

Text of the contribution Billed as "Eco-tourism at its best," Eye to Eye Marine Encounters is headquartered in Cairns in the north-east corner of Australia. Like many eco-friendly programs, Eye to Eye will provide you with explorations of the Great Barrier Reef and a "Swim with the Whales" program - all under the healthy label of Sustainable Tourism; the staff will educate and train you on how to approach the reef and interact with its sea life (, and Eye to Eye has the only Swim with the Minke Whales program approved by conservationists (

But if you want to do more for the environment during your vacation than be kind to sea life and keep track of a carbon footprint read on. The company may be listed under "Eco-tourism," but founder John Rumney says "Marine Research Tourism" is a more accurate description: Eye to Eye participants become part of a long-term scientific study of this portion of the sea, and the information gathered over 14 years - on fish sightings, the state of the coral, water temperature and more - on Eye to Eye's daily checklists has helped a conservation effort that actually changed the world.

The concept of Research Tourism grew from John's hope that Eye to Eye could be the source of scientific studies to inform the government and thereby effect change. So, long before it was financially viable for him to do so, he put aside 10% of all proceeds toward the purchase of a research vessel. He wanted marine scientists involved, because he knew their field information was out of date — they were spending way too many hours grant writing and not enough time eye to eye with fish.

A few years ago, John gathered the research, called on some some well-chosen friends in Australia's conservation movement, and went to the government to show that tourism (and, by extrapolation, conservation of the environment upon which tourism relies) had a much higher positive impact on the economy than the commercial fishing industry. Once the government saw the numbers, they created policies to limit fishing, as well as agricultural run off (the main killer of the reefs directly off shore).

Australia now spends 180 Australian dollars a year to protect the Great Barrier Reef — not because it's the right thing to, but because of the bottom line return on investment. By this effort John Rumney has proven two things: going Green is not only wise but profitable, and it is possible to form a business model that can change the world.

By Meredith Bean McMath

Meredith Bean McMath is an author and freelance writer from Virginia who recently returned from a Global Educational Learning seminar on Australian Eco-Tourism through her graduate studies at Shenandoah University, Winchester, Virginia.


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