Behind the Green is all about giving you more insight into the places we feature. Our interviews reveal what happens behind the scenes, tells stories of the people on the ground, exposes the challenges they face, as well as the communities they impact; essentially the bits you don’t usually hear.
Meet Chris, an award-winning nature photographer, conservationist and entrepreneur. An adventurer at heart, Chris grew up sailing around the world and spends his time leading small photo-tours to the most amazing wildlife experiences on Earth. He now owns and runs Swell Lodge on Christmas Island, as well as sitting on the advisory committee for the Australian Geographic Society.
What makes the Christmas Island National Park such a special pace to visit?‘There are so many natural wonders here and so much wildlife that you wouldn’t see anywhere else, like the Abbotts Booby, the famous red crabs and other endemic species. There is no native predator here, so the animals have always lived in harmony, meaning that you can walk right up to the wildlife and they are so chilled out. The endemic species of birds that live here don’t fly away when you approach them, so you get to see them in all their natural beauty. As well as that though, you’ve got the amazing waters which make for world-class diving. David Attenborough said that the crab migration, which happens every year, is one of his top 10 natural wonders on Earth. There really is so much that makes this place special.’
How did Swell Lodge become so eco-focused? Has it always been this way?‘We’re relatively new so we have always been this way. We had to be eco-friendly because of where we are, in this beautiful natural landscape that we can’t risk harming in any way, we need to preserve it. We’re governed by strict environmental regulations because we exist in a national park, we would never have been approved if we weren’t.’
Where is one place or activity that you think guests must visit or do when they come to stay with you?‘If they like water, then Christmas Island is one of the best places in the world to go snorkelling, because it is so accessible, and the reef is amazing. You’ll get to see so much wildlife. But it’s not for everybody, and for those people, I think they should go and see the waterfall, birds, and the crabs because they are such special experiences.’
Could you tell us more about Greta Beach and how you’re helping the situation there?‘Greta Beach is one of those unfortunate places that catches global marine debris. It’s just in the wrong spot and so much plastic can wash up there. We’re generally trying to raise awareness and so we take guests to see it. You can read all about it, but when you actually see it, it’s so eye-opening and you’ll never want to use a plastic straw again! We often partake in clean ups and guests often like to get involved as well. Seeing Greta Beach is one of those important life lessons that helps shape guest’s behaviours into the future.’
What has been the biggest challenge that you have had to overcome on your journey so far?‘Naturally, where we are causes a challenge in itself. The red crab migration is amazing, but every year when these 50 million crabs migrate across the roads down to the coast to spawn, it makes access to the lodge difficult. Many roads close on the island, which includes the road to access the chalets, which obviously we have to still be able to access for the guests staying there. We needed to invent some kind of contraption which would allow us to drive without harming the crabs, and I managed to create a very simple device that works. It nudges the crabs out of the way of each tyre without harming them. So, you have to get creative to overcome the challenges.’
What do you think is the most important aspect of running an eco-conscious property committed to making a difference?‘There are so many places out there that are shouting about being eco, but aren’t doing it genuinely. For me, it’s all about being genuinely committed to it and being legitimate. We have tried to find all of the eco alternatives we can, like the composting toilets and biodegradable everything. We use compostable tea bags, recycled ‘who gives a crap’ toilet paper, bio-degradable soaps, provide reusable drink bottles and more. It can be more difficult and expensive, but it’s worth it.’
What green initiative are you most proud of to date?‘The solar power set up is pretty cool. I even made an app which is installed onto the iPads we provide in the lodge. It tells guests how much energy they’re using for everything. For example, you’d be able to see how much energy a hair dryer uses, and you might want to switch it off. It really makes you think about what is necessary.’
What’s next for Swell Lodge?‘We have a licence for 8 lodges and staff accommodation, so we would love to be able to expand, but it’s all about growth at a steady rate and not disturbing the land too much.’