First things first

Preserving the environment is easier than we all seem to think, says Queensland Tourism Ambassador and former Island Caretaker Ben Southall

The last year has really been an incredible experience and very possibly the year where I finally found some purpose and direction in life.

The Best Job in the World has allowed me to explore the underwater magic of the unique Great Barrier Reef; something that has been exciting, challenging and educational.

I'm now always looking for my next opportunity to get wet and go down with my wetsuit on, ready to watch, listen and take in as much as possible from the environment which we spend so little time observing and learning from during our lives.

Even though I completed nearly 50 dives during the six months as caretaker of the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef, I spent just under a day breathing through SCUBA gear!

A total of 33 hours underwater did however give me a huge understanding of the beautiful, complex and sensitive eco-systems that make up coral reefs around the world, they are ultimately living organisms and the Great Barrier Reef is the largest in the world at over 2,300km in length.

They are also highly sensitive to changes in the environment much like any other living thing.

You look after your pets when you have them; you love them, feed them, nurture them and care for them in anyway you can and that"s exactly what we need to do when it comes to looking after coral reefs.

There have been conflicting reports across the worldwide media over the past few years about global warming, man's influence on the planet, glacial decline, rising sea levels and the impact on coral reefs.

But as just one guy where do I stand on this important issue, who do I believe and what conclusions can I take away from any of it?

It shouldn"t matter whether we are or whether we aren’t directly affecting the planet.

The point is that we should all try and do something more than we are right now to lessen our impact on the planet - I mean we only have one chance and if we destroy it for future generations, what sort of generation have we been and what kind of legacy have we left?

We’ll certainly have left our mark on planet earth and it won't have been a good one.

As I travel through various cities in the world telling the masses about my Queensland adventures and see different cultures and people making different commitments to their environmental future, I feel lucky to be in a position to have a more global view on the situation and to be able to observe what’s going on today.

People make commitments and pledges, and in the public eye try to stick to them by reducing carbon levels over five, 10 or 20 years (why should it even take that long?), by decreasing their dependency on fossil fuels, by introducing more 'green’ electricity power generation, by reducing landfill…the list is endless!

But the point is that however much commitment governments make, the opportunity for change and the ability to actually do something about it is totally up to us…me…you…the everyday man in the street.

We can start by making little adjustments to our everyday lives and it’ll even help to save money too.

Less power = less fossil fuels burnt. So you can see that we’re actually helping the governments, our pockets and the planet. Everyone’s a winner and it doesn’t stop there.

Turning lights out at night or when you leave a room, converting to energy-efficient light-bulbs, choosing to drive a smaller, more efficient car, thinking about lift sharing, walking or riding to work, buying products from the shops which have less packing on them, choosing a green electricity provider, installing solar panels if your climate suits it, using rainwater collection tanks, recycling more effectively…the list goes on!

All of these are really simple things to do or at least try and they won’t just help you with keeping costs down, they’ll help mother nature deal with keeping the balance of the planet in check as well. If you try it then it may just come up in conversation with friends who in turn may try it and then so may the next person and so on.

There are some great examples of how this has happened right along the length of Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef with operators making a real effort to protect their environment and that of the reef too.

Lady Elliot Island is one example that springs to mind, who have installed a bank of solar panels on the island which produces 42% of the resorts power and has also reduced their reliance on diesel generators and their fuel consumption by 400 litres a day.

The little things can mean a lot if we all pull together, and leading by example is the best way to influence other people and countries. Tourism Queensland is doing some great work in the sustainable tourism field with a program underway that aims to create 'guilt free’ Queensland holidays.

The Tourism Queensland-led ‘Sustainable Regions for Queensland’ project has implemented action plans for tourism operators to help reduce their carbon footprint and environmental impacts.

Stradbroke Island, Winton, Airlie Beach, Magnetic Island and Pioneer Valley/Cape Hillsborough were involved in this statewide-first initiative forward in tandem with their local councils, regional tourism organisations and tourism operators.

Collaboratively, they are concentrating their efforts to ensure the environmental impact of Queensland’s tourism industry is reduced, which in turn encourages visitors to view the industry in a sustainable light.

When people think of holidaying in Queensland, I want them to feel assured it will be a 'guilt-free' experience as far as climate change, carbon footprints or environmental impact are concerned.

Slowing down the process of global warming can happen and we need to do these things now, not tomorrow.

I’ve been lucky enough to explore the underwater world extensively along the Queensland coast and want people to be able to do that for many years to come.

One day I want my grandchildren and even their grandchildren to enjoy this intriguing eco-system and environment so it’s important that we act now.

The education I have gained over the last six months as the Island Caretaker is something I want to try and make the world aware of, and in my new role as the Queensland Tourism Ambassador one of my priorities is to draw the world’s attention to this important fragile tourism drawcard.

Let’s start by doing the simple things…