Passion in Action: The Jean Michel Cousteau Eco-Resort in Savusavu, Fiji

Approximately 12 years ago I was speaking at an Ecotourism conference in Quito, Ecuador. I met an amazing man there who shaped the way I looked at oceans. His name was Dr. Richard Murphy and what I found so astounding about him was the way he educated people on ocean ecosystems. He talked about an eco-resort in Fiji that incorporated the principles of sustainability and conservation. I never forgot about Richard Murphy or the resort in Fiji, although being a lover of the underwater world, you cannot forget an eco-resort with the name “Jean Michel Cousteau”. I never connected the two until I ended up here in December, thrilled that I finally made my way to the place that Richard Murphy was instrumental in shaping.

The Jean Michel Cousteau Resort is in Savusavu, Fiji. It opened as one of the world’s first eco-luxury resorts. Inspired by the Cousteau family’s legacy of environmental conservation and education, the Jean Michel Cousteau Resort incorporates sustainable practices into its management and operations. It is located on 17 acres of a former coconut plantation.

There are not many places in the world that I have been absolutely blown away by the passion of the people and their commitment to the environment. I was lucky enough to spend time at this resort with the General Manager Mark Slimmer, Operations Manager Bart Simpson, resident marine biologist Johnny Singh and the amazing staff. Sustainability was ingrained in so many aspects at this resort, while still maintaining its luxury aspects. The service was so astounding that guests were made to feel like family, and all wanted to take care of the beautiful surroundings and the marine environment.

Many guests chose to come to the Jean Michel Cousteau resort because of the reputation it has for incredible service. It is a family luxury resort, which provides activities for children of all ages. All children are assigned a nanny or friend depending on their age that plays with them from 8 am to 9 pm. The activities however are focused on environmental education and children are taken out snorkelling with the resident marine biologist, Johnny Singh; are taught about ocean ecosystems; and learn about the mangroves amongst other things. There is also education amongst the guests of the resort. There are snorkelling trips every day, but also tours of the mangroves and resorts’ greening efforts; visits to the local community and nightly talks to discuss the marine environment and issues related to sustainability. Guests leave with an education and a feeling that they have supported something good. Children leave with a deeper understanding of why the environment should be protected. All leave with a desire to want to come back.

The lengths that this resort has gone to reduce its impact on the environment has been outstanding. Before I launch into those details I also want to mention that what is especially needed in a resort/tourism operation that wants to focus on sustainability is the willingness and passion of the people that work there. The two managers, Mark and Bart, are just amazing people. They dedicate so much of their personal time to community based issues.  The employees on numerous occasions recounted to us about how wonderful Mark and Bart are, how they care about the employees to the extent that they pay for their medical needs and even sit by their bedside while in hospital.  Even the guests feel the warmth from these managers. When arriving and leaving, Mark or Bart will be there to greet you and say goodbye. We felt such sadness when we left, with the staff singing their goodbye tune. This place is just incredible.

Now on to the resort….The resort is constructed in traditional Fijian style with thatched roofs. Each of the individual bungalows were designed using this dying art form. The thatched roofs ensure that this traditional method of weaving is continued by the local indigenous population. There is no air conditioning in the bungalow.. The design of the bures with high ceilings, use of timber and thatching, use of extensive timber louvered widows and low tropical garden surrounds minimizes the capture of heat and allows the gentle breezes to cool the bures naturally. The resort uses low voltage ceiling fans in bures to complement the natural cooling design.

The resort has its own wastewater treatment system that is emptied into the landscaped lagoons. The water treatment plant uses low energy and has a small physical footprint. Within the wetlands, Tilapia fish eat bugs, mosquito larvae and non-living organic material. Specific plants such as the Hyacinth have been planted to assist in the final stage breakdown of nutrients.

The resort has a comprehensive water filtration program. Water drawn from the town water supply is first placed in large storage tanks whereby it is allowed to settle before being run through the filtration plant and entering the resort. Water is then filtered by a four-stage filtration system and finally ultra-violet light treated to ensure the water is free of contaminants. The resulting water is at least as pure as commercially available bottled water.

The property recycles all plastic water bottles, metal tins, glass bottles, cardboard, paper, plastic bags and wrap, textiles, batteries, metal and used equipment and appliances and these are sent at the resort’s expense to recycling plants in the city of Suva, on another island over 80 miles away. All items are sorted by separate recycle bins in the bures, bar, kitchen and administration areas and then sorted by hand at ‘back of house’ into specific large recycle bags for shipping. All green kitchen scraps are composted and used to nourish the vegetable and herb gardens. Garden waste is chipped, mulched and returned to the earth either by mulching gardens or creating large mulch pits that breakdown into useable soil for gardens.

Many years ago the coastline of the area had abundant Mangroves, which provide an important ecosystem and assist in minimizing coastal erosion. Many of these mangrove plants were removed in the years before the resort was established. The resort has implemented a Mangrove reforestation program. This is overseen and monitored by the resident Marine Biologist. There are areas of healthy young Mangroves now growing along sections of the coast in the area of the Resort.

Marine Biologist Johnny Singh also commenced implementing a coral farm in May 2013.  Natural processes such as storms and strong wind conditions naturally break fragments of coral colonies. If the fragments fall on unstable substrate, such as sand or silt, their survival rate is low compared to if they fall on stable solid substrate. Naturally broken fragments can clone themselves to grow to large corals. The Coral farm was started to assist the reefs by utilizing local corals that have been broken naturally from the parent colony and have very low chance of surviving without help.

The resort also has an organic garden. Begun over 15 years ago, the garden is over two acres and produces a diverse array of vegetables, herbs and tropical fruits. The Resort’s organic garden and fruit trees supply around twenty percent of the Resort’s fruit and vegetable needs. Most fruit and vegetables that supplement the resort garden produce are sourced from local growers and most are organic. Fish are purchased from local fishermen, providing local economic benefit to the community. No endangered species are bought. In addition, fish are not sourced from the nearby reefs, as these are the traditional fishing grounds for the local community, but rather from the deeper waters of the open ocean. The resort does not have reef fish or lobster on their menus, keeping to local caught pelagic ocean fish that are sustainable. The Resort supports local economic initiatives, such as utilizing honey produced by local village businesses for the restaurant and Coconut oil produced by local village cooperatives.

All items purchased for the gift shop and in the guest rooms meet environmental criteria such as being locally produeted and use natural and organic ingredients.

The resort employs about 200 employees. Only two staff members, the General Manager and Operations Manager are non-Fijian, in contrast to most resorts in the region, which have at least 10% expatriate staff. All supervisory and middle-management positions are held by locals, including the head chef and dive shop manager. The Resort assists a number of staff with Tertiary training courses at institutions such as Fiji National University. Financial assistance or free community housing is provided for a number of staff members.

The resort has established a relationship with the remote community of Nakawaga, landowners of a pristine area of Rainforest and mountain area. This partnership offers Guests a unique opportunity to experience a stunning piece of Fijian nature while providing an economic benefit to the community without harm to the traditional owner’s environment.

The resort also contributes to the community in a number of ways. The Resort often donates resources or funds to community projects, the most recent being the health walk along the foreshore of Savusavu, a walking path with park benches for the community and tourists to enjoy. It also supports an orthopedic clinic at Savusavu hospital. $4 FJ a night is charged to every guest to contribute to the Savusavu Community Foundation. The foundation focuses on donating medical supplies, computers and medical and dental clinics to the community. Each year, SCF donates Christmas Hampers to 10 villages in the region. The hampers consist of food staples and farm tools for approximately 25 households per village.

In conjunction with Ocean Futures Society, the resort assists with various conservation-related projects, including Project Reef Check. Our newest partnership, the Sustainable Reefs program, helps secondary schools, educators and communities in the Pacific Region to better understand the relationship between healthy reefs and the quality of people’s lives. These efforts enable them to become better stewards of their coral reef resources. Founded by Jean-Michel Cousteau in 1999, Ocean Futures Society’s mission is to explore the global ocean, inspiring and educating people worldwide to act responsibly for its protection, documenting the connection between humanity and nature, and celebrating the ocean’s vital importance to the survival of all life on our planet.

Seacology is considered the world’s premier non-profit organization with the sole purpose of preserving the environments and cultures of islands throughout the world. Often the group comes to Fiji to implement its projects. For example, in Nasigasiga (the village home of the resort’s beloved Cultural Host, Niumaia Kavika), Seacology provided a new water tank and water delivery system in exchange for 350 acres of pristine rainforest reserve. This gave the village running water and flush toilets for the first time!

The Jean Michel Cousteau resort is an exceptional resort that gives a lot back to the community. It has won numerous accolades and awards both for outstanding hospitality and environmental stewardship. They include:

  • Australasia’s Leading Green Hotel – 2008, 2011, 2012 World Travel Awards
  • Gold List: Best International Family resort – 2014 Luxury Travel Magazine Australia
  • Best Overseas Family Resort – 2012 Luxury Travel Magazine Australia
  • Best Luxury Eco-Tourism Property – 2012 Luxury Travel Magazine Australia
  • #8 of Top 25 Hotels for Families in South Pacific – 2012 TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice

The Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort was such a pleasure to stay at. I loved every minute and was so happy to be in a resort that was so committed to the environment. There are many more things that Mark, Bart and Johnny are involved in. They contribute so much to the community of Savusavu. This comes across in how happy the staff were and it really made for an amazing experience. I have never come across a resort employing a resident Marine Biologist!

I truly feel that it is in the best interest of all hotels and resorts to be as committed to the environment as the Jean Michel Cousteau resort. It is important to search out hotels and resorts that focus on sustainability and the more a guest asks for this and makes their decision based on these factors, the quicker the tourism industry will change. It just takes a little digging while researching for a trip on where to stay and what practices they implement. Tripadvisor and Expedia are now jumping on the bandwagon and identifying Green Leaders on their websites, it is up to you as a tourist to check this out. Go on hotel’s websites, do your research, ask your travel agent and if you do end up somewhere that still does not recycle those bottles or even worse dumps their sewage into that ocean you are swimming in, bring it to their attention, ask questions, talk to the General Manager, write about it in their review and soon it will happen.  Sustainability occurs because one person pushes to make a change and like the domino effect, change will happen. On your next trip, ask those questions and choose to stay at a place that is committed to the environment.

By | 2017-02-03T00:05:19+00:00 January 29th, 2015|0 Comments

About the Author:

DR. SONYA GRACI is a specialist in sustainable tourism, corporate sustainability, stakeholder management, community capacity development and environmental management. She has more than 15 years experience in the field. Dr. Graci’s passion is working with stakeholders towards achieving a common goal of sustainability. She has worked with numerous communities and organizations to develop their sustainability strategies and has facilitated several training programs and workshops. She has also led extensive consultation with stakeholders in communities across North America, Central America, and Asia.

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