In this blog, the Managing Director and Custodian of Lady Elliot Island, Peter Gash OAM, has answered your frequently asked questions about his love for the reef and for Lady Elliot Island. Peter first saw the island in 1980 on a visit with his now wife, Julie, and knew that he wanted to be a part of looking after the once-devastated coral cay. In 2005 he became a leaseholder and alongside his family and team, has worked tirelessly to bring the island back to life and turn it into the flourishing eco-escape it is today.
What is your favourite diving or snorkelling location on Lady Elliot Island?
There are so many amazing locations on the Island; it would be hard to pick one.
However, from a diving point of view, I absolutely love the Blowhole and Hiros Cave. They are both a special dive. The other dive sites that are hard to beat are Spiders’ Ledge, and of course, the Severance Wreck. However, nothing quite beats sitting on your knees at the Lighthouse Bommie when the manta rays are swimming over your head; it’s priceless.
From a snorkelling perspective, again it’s the same thing, there are so many amazing snorkelling sites. However, nothing beats an early morning snorkel out to Channel One in the Lagoon with all the amazing marine life that gather as the sunrises.
Image Credit: Tourism and Events Queensland
What is your all-time favourite underwater moment?
Over the years I have experienced and witnessed some of the most incredible marine life that the reef has to offer! From unforgettable incidental Humpback Whale encounters with my family, False Killer Whales, Tiger Sharks and the friendliest Lagoon turtles you’ll ever meet!
One experience that sticks out for me is snorkelling one morning with a group of people who were visiting for a function, we were due back at 7am for breakfast. We’d been out for an hour so a few of us were already back at the Lighthouse quay way ready to head in. But then we heard a few people squealing about a dolphin!
Low and behold, there was ‘Bubbles’ (our resident bottlenose dolphin) in 3 meters of water. Bubbles just went crazy as it chased around the big-eye trevally – just meters away from us! It was just generally playing with us and having a good time for nearly 30 minutes. We were half an hour late for our meeting, but we didn’t care – it was the best snorkel you could ever have!
What’s next for lady Elliot? Any plans that you can share? Where/how do you see lady Elliot in ten years’ time?
We want LEI to continue in the role of being a great example of existing in wonderland with minimum impact. As a nature based natural wildlife wonderland.
In partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation’s Reef Islands Initiative, we will continue to develop our revegetation program. It is so exciting to watch our forest grow. We’ve now started to plant out the old cross-runway and make that into a walkway. It’s exciting to see a human use area like an aerodrome being replanted and given back to nature, while getting it as close to what it was 200 years ago.
Furthermore, more solar panels will be forthcoming as energy demands require it. We are also going to begin transitioning from our first lead acid batteries to new lithium-ion phosphate batteries, as the old ones run out.
We don’t have any plans to grow the accommodation or visitor numbers – it’s not about more, it’s about better. It’s about trying to improve the experience for every person. We have a saying here – it’s not about making a fortune; it’s about making a difference.
The biggest goal of our Team and our main mission is to leave the island better than we found it. We strive to demonstrate that we can take something like a degraded mine site and into a paradise. To quote Eric Solheim (director general of the UN Environment Department) who visited LEI on a dignitary visit in 2018 “you’ve taken a wasteland and you’ve turned it into a wonderland”.
We are very excited with the future prospect to transition to electric airplanes, we recognise that this could still be a little way off, but we have been supportive of a major electric Cessna Caravan project for 7 years. Part of that goal is that the aircraft we use will be totally renewable. We are really excited about this project!
Image Credit: Greg Sullavan
What are some of the conservation projects you are involved in?
The obvious one is our revegetation program on LEI and the fact we have planted thousands of trees and shrubs, and now we are planting native ground covers and grasses. We are also replenishing the soil that was removed from the Island during the guano mining era.
The other less obvious projects include our partnership with Green Fleet to offset 100% of carbon emissions from flights to and from the Island. The funds raised go directly to Green Fleet’s Barolin Nature Reserve Revegetation project. The plantings protect the local sea turtle population at neighbouring Mon Repos beach!
What improvements have you been working on around LEI over the last 2 years?
One of the most major improvements that has taken place over the last 2 years include the refurbishment of the old accommodation buildings. For those who have visited LEI, this includes the original 3-block buildings (Reef Units, Garden Units and 2-bedroom Beachfront Units) that were once a second-hand mining camp, brought to the island in 1984!
We are retaining the embedded energy of the materials within the buildings while at the same time improving the quality of the building to suit the natural environment as this then upgrades them to suit a 2022 guest expectation of what accommodation should be.
We are very proud of how we’ve brought up the standard of guest experiences yet with a low environmental impact. There has been no increase in the environmental footprint.
What is the hardest part of running a resort?
There are many challenges involved in running a remote Island resort. Starting with the logistical challenge of access as we are 120kms from the coast.
Generating our own power, desalinating our own water, treating all our own wastewater, treating our own food scraps, all within a UNESCO world heritage listed marine national park, is no easy feat.
The other challenge that keeps us on our toes is managing and dealing with human relationships in a very remote and isolated island resort setting.
Image Credit: Nick Dowling
Is there an electric future for flights to and from the island?
As mentioned, we are involved in the research and development of electric Cessna Caravan aircraft, and we can’t wait until we can fly one to Lady Elliot! You can read more on this HERE.
How does it feel knowing you and your team are safeguarding one of the world’s best paradises?
The feeling that it gives us, knowing that we’re safeguarding one of nature’s wonderlands and the wildlife that lives here is what drives us. This energy is what keeps us going through the challenges of the remoteness and all the other day to day issues that can cloud your view.
We consider ourselves very privileged to have the opportunity not only to protect and preserve such a natural wonderland and resource, but also to educate both our crew and guests into protecting places like LEI, falling in love with these places, and making it our life’s work. The reward that comes from that is priceless and you simply can’t put a value on that rewarding feeling. To know that you’re not just leaving a legacy but you’re living a legacy every day.
Have you considered a series of learnings for how a home can become more sustainable?
This is something we have closely considered and to a large extent we talk about some of those things in our ‘Behind the Scenes’ tour. We may consider doing something like this to support guests that may not be able to get to the Island, and to encourage them to realise that every single person can make a difference to the planet’s future every day.
It’s important to remember that the Great Barrier Reef and the planets current environment has suffered what we call the ‘death of a million cuts’. We believe there has been millions of tiny actions that have led us all to where we stand, so it’s going to take millions of tiny actions to counteract those and bring us back to where we plan to be leaving future generations with a positive outlook and plenty of opportunity going forward!
What made you fall in love with Lady Elliot and how do you continually operate with such enthusiasm and drive?
The amazing wildlife encounters were part of what encouraged me to fall in love with the Island. But also, seeing the devastation on the Island from the previous mining, we felt represented a fantastic opportunity to put the Island back the way it belonged.
Ultimately, it’s about sharing! We love sharing our slice of paradise with our guests and we look forward to welcoming everyone here in 2022.
You can hear more about Peter’s journey by listening to his podcast interview on Steve Geddes’ ‘The Exploration of Everything’ here.