The  Slickrock water sports resort at Long Caye, Belize  is an impressive example of appropriate technology in action! The island is 35 miles off shore, outside the barrier reef. People live simply here, but they have quite an array of comforts.

Each cabana has a solar-powered light. The cabanas are oriented toward the trade winds for natural cooling breezes — no  AC here! — and no rumbling, smelly diesel generators to provide it.

The kitchen, the largest building at the resort, has it’s own 1000W solar array plus a 400W wind generator.  Since the sea breezes occur most of the time, the wind generator produces quite a lot of power. A bank of golf cart batteries store the power, which runs the house lights, iPod player, a chest freezer, and 2 electric refrigeration units — all on 12V power.  Cooking stoves  and a couple of older refrigeration units run on butane. The low voltage appliances do a great job, while just sipping power — they are designed to be super-efficient, plus have 4” of foam insulation, which is essential in the tropics. There are additional solar and wind systems on the Caye, which run more buildings farther from the kitchen.

Shower water is pumped up to an elevated tank, and flows to the showers by gravity. A 200 foot coil of black poly pipe on the shower house roof heats up in the sun, and a small pump transfers the heated water to the shower tank.

The drinking water at Slickrock is rainwater, which is caught on the tin roofs of several buildings, and stored in large polyethelene tanks. This is the traditional source of drinking water in the cayes.

Between rain storms, the tank inlets are covered. When a big rain moves in, they let the rain clean off the roof for 10 to 15  minutes, until the water runs “sweet,” not salty. Then the inlet covers are removed and the tanks fill. Wash water for dishes and laundry comes from shallow wells, which are fairly good during the rainy season, but become more brackish during the dry season. The wells are about 3’ deep, and water is just a foot or so down.

When you have a water table this high, septic systems are not an option. In the old days, folks on the cayes used outhouses, which tend to be smelly with hydrogen sulfide and methane.    Slickrock has a composting toilet system, which works well and quickly in the heat of the tropics. There is a big fiberglass tank under the toilet building, with large chutes coming up to the pottys. After you do your business, a cup of planer shavings are put down the chute, as a bulking agent. The tank has a vent  fan, and air is pulled through the mass of compost, keeping the organic action aerobic. Aerobic bacteria make water vapor and carbon dioxide, so the process is not smelly, to the amazement of many guests.

At the end of the season, after a rest period, the compost is removed and used to fertilize coconut trees. The compost looks like good potting soil, and is not obnoxious or smelly. The process has allowed the new hybrid coconut trees to thrive and grow quickly. Compost toilets treat the organic waste more thoroughly then septic systems, destroying  pathogens and even viruses well.

The resort is purposely rustic, and reminds many guests of their youthful summer camp experiences, with the addition of a chest cooler full of cold beers and sodas, largely made possible by renewable energy.


One of several solar panel installations that power our resort
Rain water barrels provide drinking water

As tropical resorts go, our Adventure Island on Long Caye occupies a rather unique niche in the travel industry because it is so remote, unpopulated and has been developed in such a low-impact, eco-friendly way. But it turns out we’re not alone — the Belize tourism industry as a whole is at the leading edge of what is now being called the move toward a more “sustainable tourism.”

Award-winning travel writer and Editor at Large at National Geographic Traveler in 2011, Costas Christ, has been named Belize’s Global Ambassador for Tourism and wrote this interesting article for Destination Belize:

When it comes to tourism, Belize has a very special history. Two decades ago, Belize hosted the first-ever World Congress on Tourism and the Environment, which helped to give birth to modern day ecotourism. It was in Belize that the world gathered to discuss the issues of tourism and protection of cultural and natural heritage—what today is popularly known as sustainable tourism: travel that helps to protect biodiversity, support cultural diversity, and improve the livelihoods of local people in tourism destinations around the world.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, sustainable tourism may be the most significant transformation in the history of modern travel. And Belize has played a key role in this global transformation—about how to have a great vacation and also give back to local people and the planet. The tiny country of Belize is proud of the big role it has played in helping to promote a new vision for tourism.

As an editor with National Geographic Traveler, I can say personally from my travels to more than 100 countries across six continents that, when it comes to rich cultural heritage, incredible nature on land and sea, spectacular beauty and a truly warm and friendly people, Belize makes my own top five list of the world’s best places to see and experience.

On a planet where one hotel increasingly looks the same as another, where pristine nature is increasingly rare, and where culture has often become homogenized, authenticity has become the real luxury in travel; and Belize is all about authenticity.

To share in Belize’s special sense of place, and to surround yourself with the country’s rich and vibrant cultural traditions, all you need to carry with you is an open mind and a smile. These two things are easy to pack and bring the greatest reward. For years, Belize has prided itself on being “Mother Nature’s Best Kept Secret.” Now Belizeans have decided to let that secret out for others to discover and enjoy. And just as importantly, you can come be a part of Belize’s sustainable tourism efforts in protecting these treasures for future generations.

The other day someone at the office mentioned the term “ecotourism” and a debate ensued as to what exactly that term means now-a-days. So I decided to look it up on Wikipedia and was surprised to find that the description fit Adventure Island to a “T”.

Ecotourism is responsible travel to fragile, pristine, and usually protected areas that strive to be low impact and (often) small scale (as an alternative to mass tourism).

Fragile, pristine, protected: The government of Belize protects Glover’s Reef as a national Marine Reserve and World Heritage Site because it “is considered the prototypic atoll of the Caribbean. It is not only the best developed biologically, but also possesses the greatest diversity of reef types.”

Low impact: The facilities at Adventure Island are as green as they get. Everything is solar and wind powered, and water is supplied by rainwater catchments. Where most resorts use motorboats to take guests out to reefs for snorkeling, we use self-propelled kayaks.

Small scale: Our maximum capacity is 34 guests.

Adventure Island is the epitome of ecotourism.