How would you describe Misool Resort in a nutshell?
Our resort is an intimate, tropical holiday hideaway, built on a private island in an archipelago of uninhabited islands. We are 165 km away from the nearest port, blissfully secluded and largely untethered from the modern world. No light pollution, no noise pollution, no mobile phone signal... in fact there is very little to distract you from the surrounding natural beauty.
Our resort island is leased from the local community, along with 1220 sq km of surrounding reefs. This No-Take Zone, which is nearly twice the size of Singapore, is patrolled by our Rangers. All our dive sites are inside this area, which means the reefs are just astounding... gorgeous corals, massive sea fans, patrolling reef sharks, pygmy seahorses, schooling tuna, giant manta rays, walking sharks...
When did you open the resort and what was your inspiration?
Our inspiration was the spectacular natural beauty of Raja Ampat. It’s hard not to be moved by the scenery, both above and below the water. This is the heart of marine biodiversity, and there just are no richer reefs on earth. The underwater world here is still pristine, and visiting is like stepping through a portal into an different time, before the global pressures of overfishing, shark-finning, and human overpopulation were rife.
We opened in 2008 on the site of a former shark-finning camp. Our respect for the natural surroundings and our commitment to the local community defined the way we built the resort. We didn’t buy any lumber and instead set up our own sawmill. When we opened, we had milled over 600m3 of reclaimed tropical hardwood. We used local labour as much as possible, and created apprenticeship programs to train our staff. We are so proud that many of our waiters, dive guides, and housekeepers started with us years ago as unskilled labourers. We’ve grown together.
Misool Resort is all about environmental and social responsibility. How would you describe your philosophy?
We want to raise the bar for tourism while rewriting conservation strategies. We no longer have the luxury of time, and we cannot wait for governments and NGOs to implement solutions to our environmental crises. All of us, including private enterprise, have a responsibility to our children and grandchildren to leave things better than we found them.
We must find sustainable solutions which decouple local economies from extractive practices which target diminishing resources. When it’s done consciously and intelligently, tourism can be that mechanism. Responsible tourism can empower local communities to reclaim stewardship over their ancestral lands and safeguard them from overfishing, mining, logging, etc.
To you personally, what is so special about this holiday resort?
Misool Resort is a love story. It’s the story of being so completely captivated by a place and a time and a project that no hurdle is insurmountable. And of course, the evolution of the resort runs parallel to the evolution of Marit and Andrew. We fell in love in Raja Ampat, and got engaged on the beach where the restaurant now stands...
Tell us a bit about Raja Ampat. What made you fall in love with this remote part of Indonesia?
Raja Ampat is like no place else on earth. It’s a network of thousands of islands, with a very low population density. The ecosystems here are comparatively intact, with unbroken swathes of monsoon jungle meeting the sea, and then pristine reefs below. It’s breathtaking.
The industrialised communities are already so far removed from nature that it’s easy to believe that we’re not actually connected at all, that we humans exist independently from the rest of nature. But that’s simply not true. The great gift of living here has been that I am reminded of this fact each day.
The local communities of this area are directly linked to the health of their natural resources. This interdependence resulted in generations’ worth of accumulated local knowledge. Our staff and our local hosts have been so generous with us and our guests, sharing their knowledge, remedies, and myths. Once you start learning all this and feeling the connection, it’s hard not to fall in love with this place.
To you personally, what has been the biggest reward about running a dive resort?
It’s like a huge puzzle. The project started as a tiny seed hoping to grow into a conservation centre, but the course changed very quickly. We couldn’t come up with a viable funding model for a conservation centre. And the more research we did, the more convinced we became that private enterprise with healthy reefs as its primary asset could be a very effective conservation tool.
So we ended up building a holiday resort, and the puzzle became even more complex. It’s been such a rewarding journey, especially to see how people are transformed by the place. Our holiday guests leave with a much deeper appreciation of nature’s magnificence and the threats against it. And hopefully they feel that they can be involved with finding solutions. Through contact with our guests, our 120 staff are reminded that their backyard is someplace really really special. It’s worth protecting, for their own children and grandchildren as well as for the rest of the world.
How would you like your holiday guests to remember their stay?
We want our guests to leave refreshed, relaxed, reconnected, and above all inspired. There is so much beauty in the world, so much to appreciate. It is my greatest hope that our story and our mission can encourage other folks to take a look at the corner of the world they inhabit and spend a few moments figuring out how they can leave it better than they found it. We all have that capacity, perhaps even that duty.