About 13 years ago, Brian & Donna McDonald found a plot of land off the southern coast of Fiji. By definition, it was paradise. Beautiful, untouched, pristine, and a surfers dream. Naturally, the McDonald’s bought the land and started building what would become the world’s first sustainable surf resort. “When we found the land, we knew we had to do something special to preserve its uniqueness,” says Brian McDonald. “So sustainability has been a key priority at Matanivusi from the conception.”
To fully comprehend what it meant to become a sustainable “eco-resort,” Matanivusi enlisted the help from STOKE Certified, a certification program dedicated to improving how surf and snow tourism can be better operated through a sustainability lens. STOKE and Matanivusi worked with The Sustainability Management Plan to help define the sustainability strategy, using five benchmarks that embrace all aspects of sustainability — ranging from environmental needs, to socio-cultural and economic impacts.
Matanivusi worked with an architect to create what’s called a Passive Solar Design to avoid AC and excessive lighting indoors; they strategically set up rainwater collection tanks throughout the resort to collect fresh water, as well as burying Biolytix Wastewater systems underground that convert wastewater to use as irrigation and natural fertilizer for the gardens. The crew set up over 120 rooftop solar panels and additional battery support to power the resort as well as their neighbors. In the first year, the solar panels reduced Matanivusi’s CO2 emissions by 69% and saved the resort nearly $60,000.
In addition to the operational build-out, the resort has since put in place countless programs to protect and involve the Fijian culture and community surrounding Matanivusi.
The resort became STOKE Surf Certified in 2014, and in January of this year, 2016, Matanivusi invited an independent evaluator, Sam Sproal of Refraction Sustainability, to survey against the STOKE Surf standard. It was a success and Sproal ended up increasing their sustainability compliance score from 84% to 86%.
We had an opportunity to talk with Brian McDonald on the story behind Matanivusi’s sustainability initiatives, get his take on sustainable myths, and discuss what the resort is doing to continue this legacy.
What’s Matanivusi’s definition of sustainability?
Basically, it’s doing everything possible to sustain, while enjoying, our environment both natural and cultural so that we leave the place in a better condition for generations to come.
Why was it an important initiative for Matanivusi to become STOKE Certified? Were the guidelines STOKE provided helpful to become a sustainable resort?
When we found the land [for Matanivusi] we knew we had to do something special to preserve its uniqueness, so sustainability has been a key priority at Matanivusi from the conception. Sustainability has been incorporated into all aspects of the resort, from design through to daily operations. Matanivusi continually strives to refine and increase its level of understanding of sustainability, therefore becoming STOKE Certified was an attempt to improve its sustainability evaluation procedures and identify areas in which it can improve, plus giving us a legitimate claim to our business name “Matanivusi Beach Eco Resort.” Being awarded certification also provided an opportunity to confidently promote Matanivusi’s sustainability credentials and our position as a leader in sustainable surf tourism.
The economic and financial benefit from becoming a sustainable resort must be great, but how would you suggest another resort could plan for the initial, up-front costs in building out a sustainable resort? Are the upfront costs really that much more than just building out a non-sustainable resort?
The costs are cheap if you are sure of what you want from the beginning. The business was registered as an “eco-resort” and we tried our best to live up to the name. The timber used in our buildings is plantation timber, meaning we can always purchase this with the confidence that reforestation is taking place. We also have rainwater catchment systems, so water bills are never an issue, as well as trying to educate and inform our guests and staff to conserve water during dry seasons. Operating a sustainable resort not only helps protect our environment, it ensures the longevity of the business in terms of sustaining the natural beauty of the environment which tourists are normally drawn to.
You mentioned that 120 rooftop solar panels and additional battery support power the resort as well as Matanivusi’s neighbours! Was this the goal going into the clean energy build-out to help your neighbouring homes, or was it just a welcomed by-product?
The resort opened in 2007 and we always had the intention of helping our neighbours with an electricity supply to their homes. We operated a diesel generator 24/7 which supplied more than enough energy so we could definitely support them. Since our switch to solar energy our commitment to our neighbours has not changed. This helps them both with power and financially.
Can you touch on your coral reef restoration project and the mangrove planting project? Why is it important to protect your local ecosystem?
Our coral reef restoration is still in its planning stages and we are strongly considering it as our next project. However, we are very proud of our mangrove planting project that’s in conjunction with the Vunaniu Surf Club. Our local surf guides who are members of Vunaniu Village have started a surf club with the help of the resort. The children spend Saturday at the resort learning how to surf as well as the different aspects of sustainability such as recycling. In this instance, they have taken a lead role in our mangrove planting. Mangrove seedlings are planted in small pots, watered and await planting along the coast and roadside (which has been subjected to coastal erosion). Matanivusi believes that not only will this minimise erosion and increase biodiversity in the area but it is also a learning experience for children which they take back to the village and school.