WHEN A GENERATIONAL LOVE OF NATURE BECOMES A CATALYST FOR CHANGE
The Conservation Ecology Centre, a long-term Ecotourism Australia member situated in the Otways region of Australia’s iconic Great Ocean Road, received $2 million in federal government funding this month for its newest project, Wildlife Wonders. This project represents a significant investment in the future of the Otways, for residents, for tourists and for Australia’s native species.
To get the full scoop, we decided to quiz Lizzie Corke, CEO of the Conservation Ecology Centre, on where the idea for Wildlife Wonders came from and what she envisages for the future of this beautiful region.
EA: Lizzie, a massive congratulations on receiving your government funding! Where did the idea for Wildlife Wonderscome from?
LC: Thanks! In 2000 my husband and I established the Conservation Ecology Centre, a conservation organisation based on the Great Ocean Road. To support the centre’s work, we established the Great Ocean Ecolodge as a social enterprise in 2004, which is a five-room solar powered guesthouse alongside the Great Otway National Park. For nearly fourteen years we have been taking our ecolodge guests on a guided dusk walk to see the wildlife and learn about the centre’s conservation programs and the feedback is outstanding. Wildlife Wonders is based on this proven concept – a chance for visitors to experience the Australian bush accompanied by a conservationist, sharing special encounters with wild animals and having a chance to contribute to their future. It is an opportunity for us, as an organisation, to engage with a far bigger audience and generate a reliable source of funding which is vital for the Centre’s ever-expanding conservation programs.
EA: That sounds amazing. Where did your passion for protecting Australia’s native wildlife start?
LC: My passion for Australian wildlife started a long time ago – and a long way away! I was born in the UK into the midst of a family who love nature. I had a remarkable great aunt, aunty Marge, who would take me for nature rambles through the North York Moors or the city parks of London – she saw nature everywhere, even if it was just a fallen leaf on a pavement, and she shared her sense of wonder with me. My family moved to Australia when I was six and Marge took it upon herself to fill me with fast facts on Australian wildlife before we left - she told me I had to learn as much as I could, so we could explore together in Australia when she came to visit. It was a special link which spanned generations and hemispheres and lifetimes – Marge is no longer here but I share her sense of wonder with my little girl now.
EA: It’s obvious that nature is close to your heart. We’ve actually been talking a lot lately about “bucket list” experiences and how these can often be those special little moments that make a trip with one of our certified operators unforgettable. What would you say are some bucket list experiences guests can have at the Great Ocean Ecolodge?
LC: Great question! I think these are a few things that might be special moments for Great Ocean Ecolodge guests:
- Enjoying a glass of wine from the sun deck while watching the kangaroos grazing at sunset
- Sharing a special encounter with a friendly sugar glider after dinner
- Chatting with an ecologist about their work on projects across the Otway
- Helping the chefs gather vegetables for dinner from the beautiful kitchen gardens
- That first glimpse of the twelve apostles from the great ocean walk
- Showering in pure rainwater heated by the sun
EA: Those are exactly the kinds of moments we’re talking about. The Conservation Ecology Centre has been certified through Ecotourism Australia (EA) for a long time and you’re also a member of the EA board. What benefits do you see from this relationship and your involvement with EA?
LC: We’ve been involved with EA since 2005 when we achieved Advanced Ecotourism Certification for the Great Ocean Ecolodge. When it is done well, tourism can offer incredible opportunities for sustainable economic development which supports the environment and the community in which it operates – we have always believed that Ecotourism Certification provides an important standard for this. The program not only holds operators accountable, but it also supports them through the process and celebrates the many achievements along the way. We have learned so much from EA and we greatly value the network that it represents.
EA: It’s been such a pleasure being part of your journey and we look forward to everything that lies in store for the Conservation Ecology Centre! Can you describe for us your vision for the future of the Otways?
LC: Our vision is an Otways once more vibrant with wildlife – it was like that once and it could be again. I want the children of the Great Ocean Road to grow up loving nature and I want them to have every opportunity to pursue lives which allow them to contribute to that. Secure jobs and a thriving community are critical to this. Balancing tourism with conserving the natural beauty people come here for is a big challenge for the Great Ocean Road, but we believe passionately they can support one another – a dedicated commitment to ecotourism can achieve that. The Otways is only a very small corner of the world but it’s our favourite one – there are amazing people looking after many other corners and we can all learn from one another.
EA: That’s very true. Before we go, we have to ask - what was it like meeting the Prime Minister?!
LC: It was very exciting to meet our Prime Minister. We had a good talk about social enterprise and he was keen to hear more about the Wildlife Wonders project - how it would contribute to on-ground conservation outcomes through generating reliable revenue and how this will result in further jobs as we can employ more ecologists and conservation land managers. We gave him two cuddly Tiger Quoll toys to give to his grandchildren – fingers crossed those two little quolls take up ‘favourite toy’ roles in the Turnbull household and become valuable ambassadors for threatened species conservation!
[Photo credit: Mark Chew; Scott Beard; Jarrad Barnes; Phil Hines; Conservation Ecology Centre]