First, fair working conditions on this beautiful island appear to go beyond just the scenery. The resort provides subsidized accommodations, meals, and social events for their employees, as well as an environment of chemical-free gardening and grounds maintenance. This is especially important in a remote island living environment, far beyond the reaches of cellular phone networks. The Heron Island Resort strives to foster a community atmosphere among their employees, and social events are key to a thriving community environment.
Prices may seem expensive at first, averaging around $380 USD per night. However, when you consider the remote location, included food (but not drinks), free snorkeling lessons and a modest $50 charge for snorkeling trips, $380 starts to seem reasonable. Also, the benefits the resort provides to the research station and low-impact philosophy on the environment are not without cost and might make you feel better about the nightly rates.
As I mentioned above, Heron Island Resort is quite integrated into the local and regional economy as they share the island with the Research Outpost from the University of Queensland, the largest island research center in the Southern Hemisphere.. The resort generates their own power (though their site didn't say how) and potable water, which it provides to researchers at the station. This level of integration is unique in that it is not just an economic integration with the region, but an intellectual integration as well. By helping the researchers to document all manner of marine species they are greatly assisting the preservation of marine life in the region.
Because of the partnership the Heron Island Resort has established with the University, their fair trade commitment involves actors from academia as well as more traditional suppliers of resources such as fuel and food, creating a much more integrated relationship with all community actors. This kind of cohesive network of participants makes everyone vested in the success of the region, which is of course dependent on the health of the Great Barrier Reef and its waters. Therefore, all parties involve may be more likely to make wise resource use decisions, since their financial livelihood depends on it.
Finally, Heron Island Resort supports sustainable resource use and environmental justice by partnering with the Sea Turtle Foundation, among others. This organization is dedicated to preserving sea turtles, their migratory routes, and habitats. One interesting aspect of this partnership will be a very special "hands-on" approach to helping the sea turtles: the foundation and the resort will be purchasing a "turtle stretcher" for volunteers and guests to move stranded turtles from beaches as gently as possible, and return them safely to the waters of the reef.
The Heron Island Great Barrier Reef Resort is a unique integration of luxurious tropical resort, academic research outpost and a responsible steward of the environment, putting into practice the fundamentals of fair trade tourism.