Safeguarding the Reef prioritised at Lady Musgrave’s new underwater accommodation

For as long as visitors have been coming to the Great Barrier Reef, they have been faced with a huge dilemma at the end of their visit: They simply don’t want to leave! It’s a problem that Brett Lakey, founder and Managing Director of the Lady Musgrave Experience, was happy to solve with a new pontoon where visitors can stay overnight on – and even in – the reef itself. It’s a unique way to experience the beauty and wonder of the Southern Great Barrier Reef.

The complete experience

Lady Musgrave Experience departs Bundaberg daily, operating a variety of reef-based activities including swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving. Patrons looking to extend their day trips can now stay the night under the surface of the water in the one-of-a-kind Lady Musgrave HQ pontoon. The cabin-style accommodation feels just like staying the night in an underwater observatory. It’s the perfect treat for ocean enthusiasts who can drift off to sleep surrounded by gently illuminated fish and coral even after their long day in the sun has ended. If cabin-style doesn’t suit you, the pontoon also features glamping accommodation where guests can sleep in the comfort of a queen bed, enjoying a magnificent view of the island and surrounding turquoise lagoon. Previously, the extremely basic campsites on the Island itself were the only option for visitors wanting an extended stay, so the new pontoon offers a happy touch of luxury.

High-tech sustainability specs

As advanced ecotourism operators and members of the Master Reef Guide program, Brett and his team recognise how privileged they are to be able to take visitors out to one of the world’s most pristine reefs. The waters around Lady Musgrave Island are a declared Marine Park Green Zone.

This shelters the fish, sea animals and coral from the impacts of fishing, allowing them to grow to full maturity. This means visitors can enjoy some spectacular encounters with animals that are curious and unafraid of humans. Protecting this experience influenced every design decision for their new pontoon, which they had custom made to their eco-specifications to be a zero-impact structure.

The hull is a vinyl ester fibreglass construction which is chemical resistant, twice as strong as steel and has an underwater life span of 60 to 80 years. It’s the same material used to replace the steel in pylons on the Brisbane River, which is what gave Brett the idea for his design. The pontoon’s other specifications assure guests that they are treading lightly on the reef during their stay, like the way it is completely powered by solar and wind energy and has its own desalinator for drinking water. All waste is taken away by visiting vessels so that the reef remains unspoiled. Even before the pontoon opened the team worked with marine biologists to propagate coral onto the structure so it acts as an anchor for thriving marine communities.

Citizen science gives back to the reef

The new pontoon also enriches the reef education programs and tours that Lady Musgrave Experience offers. As members of the Master Reef Guide program (an initiative from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority that certifies guides as exceptional reef interpreters and master storytellers), Lady Musgrave Experience gives citizen scientists of all ages the chance to contribute to the health of the reef. Children can enjoy being a ‘marine biologist for the day’ and environmentalists can apply to be a ‘Reef Keeper’. This educational package includes three days in the spectacular waters of the Southern Great Barrier Reef, as well as hands-on data collection and conservation activities and advice on advocating for the reef when back at home.

Although the pontoon can cater for a wide range of guests from corporate functions to yoga retreats, Brett is hoping that the next generation will benefit the most from his design. “Our citizen science programs really tick the box of the school curriculum,” he says. “In a unique experience where 20 school kids come out as a group and sleep in the underwater observatory, we can get really in-depth marine recognition because they can identify fish at night while they're sleeping in their bunks!” That is if they sleep at all on such an exciting reef adventure!