Keynote speakers WILDLIFE TOURISM Conference 2020

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Our keynote speakers for the conference include:

  • Peter Gash
  • Dr Jonathan Spring
  • Debby Cox
  • Brooke Squires

Peter Gash, Managing Director, Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort & Seair Pacific

Peter Gash is the Managing Director of Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort and Seair Pacific. Lady Elliot is a coral cay island located 80 kms north-east of Bundaberg, on the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. In his early twenties, Peter discovered the island and its amazing beauty, both above and below the water. Coincidentally, that’s where he and his now wife, Julie, became close friends and both shared passion for the natural environment and the fragile eco-system of the island.

Peter is a licenced Pilot and has been flying tourists to the Great Barrier Reef for over 25 years. He started out operating regular scenic daytrips by seaplane from the Gold Coast to Lady Musgrave Island on the southern Great Barrier Reef. In the mid 90’s, Peter took the floats off the plane and began flying guests to nearby Lady Elliot Island. Lady Elliot Island is the only coral cay island on the Great Barrier Reef with an airstrip. Peter, his family and two business partners took over the lease of the island in 2005 and has been operating the 43 room eco resort since that time.

Peter’s main motivation is Education and the Environment – Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort operates on a ‘Four E’s’ Philosophy: To look after our Environment we need to be Efficient, Economically Sustainable and able to Educate Effectively. “We see ourselves as custodians of this wonderful little island – here to maintain both the Island and the reef in this pristine condition for future generations. To achieve these goals, we are constantly trying to improve standards and introduce new eco- initiatives to make the island a role model in best environmental practice”.

Peter’s personal mission, more now than ever before is to “Inspire & encourage other people, particularly the younger generation to follow their dreams to make a difference on the planet”. Lady Elliot Island is 100 kms from the coastline, we are very isolated and by location, must be self sufficient. We make our own power from a Solar Hybrid system all our water is desalinated via our own reverse osmosis desalination system and our wastewater is treated by our own wastewater treatment plant”.

In recognition of Peter’s 30 plus years in Queensland’s dynamic tourism industry and in particular his passion, dedication and leadership in sustainable ecotourism, Peter was awarded the Marie Watson-Blake award for ‘Outstanding Contribution by an Individual’ at the 30th annual QLD Tourism awards in November 2014. Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort was also awarded gold the Steve Irwin Award for Ecotourism in 2014, 2017 & 2019. In 2020 Peter was the recipient of an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in the General Division in the Australia Day Honours List for his service to eco-tourism and aviation.

Jonathon Spring (Dr.), Auckland Institute of Studies, Tourism and Hospitality Programme, Auckland, New Zealand. 

E-mail: [email protected] ORCID: 0000-0001-9211-0589


I am joining you at your conference because the work you do inspired me to become involved in conservation. A guided encounter with New Zealand’s last remaining native owl, the Morepork, or Ruru (Ninox novaeseelandiae) in 2003 was a pivotal moment for my ability to think more deeply about my own relationship with wildlife and our natural environment. I had often heard but never remember seeing a Morepork until I participated in a guided performance at Auckland Zoo, Auckland, New Zealand. The show involved an owl flying around the audience in search for food and the audience was informed about how to get involved with community-based conservation. Subsequently, I became a volunteer with the ‘Ark in the Park’ project, a mainland sanctuary in a regional Auckland park, that sought to restore the native ecology through pest management and translocations. In 2005 as a volunteer for ‘Ark in the Park’ I saw a Morepork roosting during the day. I was off the track with a team monitoring poison-bait stations set up to control introduced pest predator species.

This volunteer work with Ark in the Park encouraged me to visit other protected areas where I could see New Zealand native birds. I participated in a guided tour on Tiritiri Matangi Open Scientific Reserve (Tiri), Hauraki Gulf, Auckland. The guide told us that she was a member of Supporters of Tiritri Matangi who organised the tours and helped manage the island. She said that we could join up and become guides like her. So, I did.  In 2006, as a volunteer guide on Tiri, a juvenile Morepork could be seen from a vantage point on the track. 

The enthusiasm and knowledge of guides for our wildlife and special places got me involved in work that allowed me to learn more about our World and the other animals we share it with. With the ever-increasing demand for recreational activities in protected areas such as our regional and national parks I am interested in finding ways to use guiding (face-to-face interpretation) to get visitors to appreciate and value ecological restoration work. My PhD study was on guide-visitor interaction during wildlife tours conducted by the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi in New Zealand and Pacific Whale Foundation in Maui, Hawai’i. 

I am a still a volunteer guide for Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi, and I am on the executive committee for Interpretation Network New Zealand (INNZ). I look forward to meeting with you in Brisbane. 

Research Outputs

Orams, M, Forestell, P, & Spring, J. (2014). What’s in it for the whales? Exploring the contribution of environmental interpretation to conservation. In J. Higham, L. Bejder & R. Williams (Eds.). Whale-watching: Sustainable management and ecological management (pp. 146-62). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Spring, J. (2019). Learning during wildlife tours in protected areas: Towards a better understanding of the nature of social relations in guided tours. Journal of Tourismology, 5(1), 51‒71.

Spring, J. (2018). Learning during guided wildlife tours in protected areas and its implications for behavioural change and stewardship. In J. Dehez (Ed.). 9th International Conference on Monitoring and Management of Visitors in Recreational and Protected Areas (MMV) Abstract Book. Bordeaux, France: IRSTEA

Spring, J. (2017). Making sense of the experience: The role of guide visitor interaction during a guided wildlife tour (PhD thesis). AUT University, Auckland, New Zealand. Available at

Spring, J. (2015). Caught in the crossfire: Using participant observation to research guided tours. In M. Lück, J. Velvin, & B. Eisenstein (Eds.) The social side of tourism: The interface between tourism, society, and the environment (pp. 127-140). Frankfurt, Germany: Peter Lang Verlag.

Spring, J. and Losekoot, E.(2018). A time and place for Kaitiakitanga and Manākītanga in New Zealand’s tourism product. Paper presented at the 8th Biennial CRIE Conference: Online Learning in International Education (15-16 January), Auckland, New Zealand. 

Contributions to study and industry

Spring, J. (2018). The craft of guiding: face-to-face interpretation workshop. Full day Interpretation Network New Zealand (INNZ). Workshops presented at Pukeiti, Taranaki Regional Council, Taranaki. (12 May)

Spring, J. (2018). Learning and reinforcement on SOTM guided tours. Talk presented at Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi (SoTM) Tiri Guiding Talks, Unitech, Auckland, April 23.

Spring, J.  (2017). The power of face-to-face interpretation. In Perspectives on engagement – a panel discussion. INNZ Professional Development Workshop 2017, Hamilton Gardens, Hamilton, 13-15 September.

Spring. J. (2016). Book review: Tour guiding research: Insights, issues and implications, Annals of Leisure Research, 19(2), 263-265, DOI: 10.1080/11745398.2015.1093951

Spring, J. (2016).Sustainable wildlife tours and the concept of awareness. National Association of Interpreters International Conference, Wellington, 3 – 7 April.

Spring, J & Burns, L (2018) (Christchurch City Council) Workshops for Interpretation Network New Zealand (INNZ) at Wenderholm, Auckland, 10 – 11 March. 

Spring, J., & Taumoepeau, S. (2017). Tonga Tourism Tour guiding workshop 3-7 April, Ministry of Tourism, Nukualofa, Tonga.

Debby Cox


Debby started her career in chimpanzee captive management at Taronga Zoo, Australia in 1986. She worked as the unit leader of the primates, traveled to over 100 zoos worldwide to review management and facilities of great apes in 1990-91. Debby also attended the Gerald Durrell’s Conservation Training Centre between 1990-91.

In 2003, Debby volunteered in Burundi at the Jane Goodall Institute’s halfway house for confiscated chimpanzees. She returned as the Co-director in 1994-1995. After translocating the chimps to Kenya she then went onto Uganda to establish a sanctuary for this country at the request of the Institute and the Government of Uganda. From 1996-1998 she trained the keeping staff at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre in zookeeping and assisted in the redesigning of the facilities from arachic cages to open plan facilities. From 1998-2004, Debby acted as both project director the Ngamba Island Sanctuary and the Director of JGI Uganda.  During this time, JGI Uganda worked on areas such as chimpanzee ecotourism in Kibale NP; conservation education in school around Kibale and snare removal teams.   In 2004, She handed over the reins of management of Ngamba Island Chimpanzee sanctuary to a Ugandan Director.  Between 2004-2009, she helped establish a second chimpanzee sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo and build another wild chimpanzee viewing site in Budongo Forest in Uganda north western region.  From 2009 to 2016 she travelled between the two Congo’s supporting and advising country directors and programs on chimpanzee welfare, ecotourism, education and community development programs.  In 2016, she returned to Australia to take up a role as Property Manager for Fish River in the NT, which was an Indigenous Land Corporation project that was to be handed back to the local indigenous community to manage.

She still provides advisory support to the Jane Goodall Institute Africa Programs and is currently working on a project in Liberia in West Africa.

Brooke Squires

Brooke Squires has worked in zoos, national parks and conservation areas around the world for over 25 years.  

During her 25 years working at Zoos Victoria in Australia, Brooke’s role was first as a rhino keeper and then developing the International Conservation and behaviour change projects at Zoos Victorias International conservation partnerships. Brooke has worked in Countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda and South Africa.  Working in partnership with organisations such as the Jane Goodall Institute; Gorilla Doctors; and the Northern Rangelands Trust  as well as many local and grass roots organisations across east Africa, has fuelled Brooke’s passion to ensure that tourism benefits local people and actively conserves the wildlife of Africa while also ensuring that visitors become actively involved in conservation actions that make a meaningful difference. 

Brooke is currently working on a tourism strategy for central DR Congo that will alleviate income generated pressures on wildlife and provide sustainable  financial solutions for the community.

“ All the work I have been involved in throughout Africa has convinced me that the most sustainable way to save wildlife and support communities is through linked livelihoods such as community based eco tourism, while also ensuring that guests on safari can take action to alleviate threats that they may be driving from their home countries”.

Brooke holds a BSc in Biology and a Masters in International Community Development.Brooke Squires | Director – Raw Africa Eco-Tours

For more of Brooke’s background, activities and interests, visit:—transcript/6424732