Real eco-tourism scores Baysail a tourism gong

Iain McCabe (hanging off the side) from Baysail, which recently won an eco-tourism award.

Making a tangible contribution to the environment rather than just trading on its name is part of the philosophy that has seen Baysail named eco-tourism winner for the second year running in the Northern Rivers Tourism Awards.

The Ballina-based yacht charter and sail training operation has been collaborating with a Southern Cross University PhD student and offers punters the chance to be part of a research trip studying dolphins and whales.

Baysail owner, Iain McCabe, said money from commercial passengers funds the research trips, meaning its a three-way win.

The trips enable the research to happen, he said. So they can collect data and make decisions about conservation management. And meanwhile we increase our client appeal.

Iain said he challenged the notion of eco-tourism when operators werent actually making a contribution to the environment. He said clients were really receptive to the idea of making a positive difference, and he hoped other operators would be encouraged by Baysails award.

Instead of calling themselves eco-tourist operators for being alongside (nature), when in actual fact they are a tax on the environment by just being there, he said. Everybody says were raising awareness but thats getting pretty old.

Iain said hed like to encourage all businesses to think about how they could help the environment, even those that werent officially eco-businesses.

The planet is really taxed, he said. Weve gone so far that were changing the weather.

Baysails is currently working with SCUs Whale Research Centre, which is developing extensive photo identification catalogues of whales and dolphins sighted in the Byron Bay region.

The problem researchers have is that we are not able to be out on the water the whole time, said PhD student Liz Hawkins. So to uncover some of the many mysteries surrounding the species found in this region, we are developing collaborative projects with commercial operators.

She said Baysail was now trialling a system where customers are asked to record whale and dolphin sightings and behaviour while out to sea.

Meanwhile, Ballina Shire Council scooped two awards of distinction in the Tourism Awards one in the significant festivals and events category for last years Rivafest and the other for its Ballina Coast and Hinterland Visitor Guide in the media category.

TAFE NSW North Coast Institute was also named winner of the tourism education and training category.

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