Sail to the Ecotourism Job of Your Dreams
Ecotourism is all about creating and promoting sustainable travel opportunities around the world. It’s about showing off the natural world and its amazing inhabitants. With the aim of fostering environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation! It helps to deliver real benefits for local communities and conservation.
This is arguably one of the most important things to do in conservation! The more people who see and appreciate the value of nature – the more likely we’ll achieve sustainability going forward.
It can be a solution to the normally conflicting challenge of conserving creatures and habitats and helping economic development.
If you have a passion for the environment and love to travel – then perhaps an ecotourism job is for you! Ecotourism is great for people who love people.
Read on to find out how Sandy from Cruise Ningaloo turned his passion into an awesome ecotourism lifestyle, and how you can do it too.
What do you do that allows you to be considered ‘eco’?
First of all, being a sailing vessel is rare in this part of the world! Most others are motorised, so using wind-power is unique.
Everything we do, from waste management to catering is eco-friendly. We compost food scraps and always use recycled packaging. We let our customers know about Ningaloo Bulk Foods to minimise waste and steer clear of plastic for their groceries. And we encourage clean ethically sourced produce with all our catering.
I’m involved in conservation projects in the local area and I support various groups like Protect Ningaloo. You may have heard of their Save Ningaloo Reef campaign. I’m also on the committee of the Cape Conservation Group (CCG). It’s all part of helping to keep the environment the way it should be.
We’ve leveraged Cruise Ningaloo’s social media to help spread their messages. I was also asked to talk on behalf of the CCG for some of their social media.
The most recent threat to the future of the area I live in is Subsea 7’s proposed pipe fabrication and launching facility at Heron Point. I entered a submission from the CCG from the business point of view to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). They’re a government authority that makes a decision on the viability of the proposal in the gulf. They asked local ecotourism businesses about their opinions on it. About how it affects us from an economic and social point of view.
I argue that we’re the custodians for an area that has an abundance of wildlife that can’t argue for itself! So it’s our responsibility to keep meddling hands from ruining the environment. The place that’s home to endangered species like dugongs, and epic creatures like humpback whales.
What’s also important is what we communicate on our tours. Education is key. We take people around the Ningaloo reef and the gulf, and we show them the beauty of it. We let them see all the precious things that live here.
There’s no greater education than getting people in the environment! We show guests the landscapes, the ocean, and we show them amazing animals when we go snorkelling.
There are different things to see all throughout the year. We’re unusual in that we run all year long – a lot of businesses close down for the summer here.
If you stick around until November then you’ll have been here for the humpy season in the gulf. It’s a huge opportunity for people to be in educational situations. Out in the water with the whales, or observing them socialising from the boat! There’s a lot to learn.
What led you to work in ecotourism?
I was a sailor from a very young age. Growing up, Exmouth was a very cool place to visit! I always struggled to go home from here. Six years ago, I started doing winter work with a school that has an outdoor ed facility in Exmouth. The idea was to educate the kids but it actually also ended up educating me. It enhanced my love for the place and my desire to live here.
During 2016 when I was living up here, the Cruise Ningaloo business was for sale. It was the perfect fit. I didn’t want to go back to Fremantle! So, without much thinking, (which isn’t usually the case!), I made an offer on the business. And now I never have to leave.
What can someone who wants to work in ecotourism expect from the job?
It’s very rewarding and uplifting. It’s so great to be part of people’s reaction when they see something for the first time! To be there for the first time someone sees a whale is amazing.
If you want to start your own business, you need to find a niche though. To be able to market yourself. Being ‘eco’ isn’t enough anymore. Having an ecotourism sticker is the baseline for many businesses now!
What does a normal day on the job in ecotourism look like for you?
Checking the weather! All the time. The customer’s experience is the most important thing about my job. I’d choose not to take someone to see a particular mammal if it’s going to be uncomfortable weather-wise. So it’s constantly on my mind.
We spend a lot of time doing reccies to find new places. To see what’s on top of the water and under! Checking out anchorages. Planning for our journeys and working out the best places to go. Between trips, we do a lot of boat care and cleaning too.
Another big thing is staff education. Everyone needs to be able to answer questions about the Ningaloo region and its history. I put the most emphasis on the wildlife – on everything from corals to whales. There’s definitely an educational message to what we do here.
What’s your advice to people who want to work in ecotourism?
Follow your passion! For me, it was sailing. That hasn’t sent me up any dead ends… yet!
Bear in mind that if you’re doing it to make money you’re probably going to be disappointed. But if you’re doing it to enrich your lifestyle then you’ll be happy!
How did you get into wildlife and nature and ecotourism?
David Attenborough! He’s got a bit of a role to play in that. I’ve been interested in wildlife and nature for as long as I can remember. Exmouth turned that passion up a little bit. Because it’s so abundant and so easy to find and there’s so much variety.
I used to be a rowing coach for 35 years. That was my connection with the school that I helped out with doing outdoor ed which led me to Exmouth. Then I ended up here, working in ecotourism.
What are the best and worst parts of ecotourism jobs?
The best part is seeing people’s reactions the first time they see a new animal!
The worst part is falling short on customer’s expectations because of the weather. Usually, people do understand, but it’s hard to not take it personally! You want to be responsible for delivering meaningful memories. Wind or natural events can prevent that from happening, which is tough. And there’s nothing you can do to control Mother Nature!
What can people do to get ecotourism jobs?
Be a person who can make connections with guests and customers. It’s the most important thing.
One of the hardest things is when you go out on a trip and you don’t see any wildlife. People have paid all this money for this experience, and they didn’t get what they’d hoped for. But customers can still have a meaningful experience if the host or hostess has connected with them.
On one trip, we didn’t see anything at all. But despite that, a customer I remember well had a notably amazing time. We talked for a solid two and a half hours – building a connection. It’s not like we particularly had anything in common, but still, we were getting on.
When we returned to land, he’d enjoyed the trip so much that he invited me over for dinner! So it proves, even if the trip isn’t what a customer expected because of the weather or wildlife (or lack thereof!), they can still have a great time.
Sail away to an ecotourism job now
There are all sorts of careers in ecotourism. From sailing around the stunning Ningaloo Reef to sustainable scuba diving, and eco-tour-guiding on land!
It is a super fast-growing industry. Jobs in ecotourism are usually accessible because in the normal world (life pre-COVID!) there are lots of tourists travelling all over the world. And hopefully that will continue to be the case going forward too.