Eco Before Ecotourism Existed

When Maho Bay Camps opened in 1976, the term ecotourism didn’t even exist. Environmentally sensitive travelers usually had to “rough it” to be close to nature.  Now, the offering includes Maho’s tent cottages and Harmony Studios, as well as a sister resort, Estate Concordia Preserve that includes Concordia Eco-Tents and Estate Concordia Studios.

Each eco resort is built on the same philosophy—that environmental sensitivity, human comfort and responsible consumption are all compatible. Here, tree frogs and hummingbirds mingle with the guests as they enjoy nature while staying in dwellings constructed of mostly recycled materials, powered by the sun and wind, and built with site-sensitive techniques that preserve and protect the fragile eco-system of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Less than a three hour flight from Florida, or three and a half from New York City, and located in the Caribbean’s U.S. Virgin Islands National Park, Maho has its own secluded, white sand beach, and plenty of water sports like sailing, scuba, wind surfing, and snorkeling for active guests. There’s also lots of peace and quiet for those who simply want to enjoy the natural surroundings in thousands of unspoiled acres.

The two resorts have attracted praise from environmental organizations for their creative and consistent use of environmentally friendly, “green” building materials. Items as diverse as garbage bags, old automobiles, ketchup bottles and light bulbs have been recycled and taken on a second life as components here instead of populating a landfill. The resort harmonizes the existing natural environment. The 114 tent-cabins of Maho Bay are built on raised 16′ x16′ platforms. Sites for these tent-cabins, as well as for the other Maho Bay buildings (the restaurant, store, registration, bathhouses, administrative offices and the dining pavilion) were chosen to minimize environmental damage. All buildings are connected by raised walkways to prevent vegetation from being trampled. Ground cover and other plant and animal life continues to flourish underneath the raised walkways and tent-cabins.

Water Conservation
Fresh water is the most precious commodity on islands like St. John that have no lakes, aquifers or permanent surface water supply. Maho Bay Resorts pays particular attention to this issue. Average water consumption per guest per day is 25 gallons, whereas most resorts use as much as 300 gallons per guest per day and water supplies are augmented by collecting rain water in cisterns, conserving as much as possible, and by treating and using wastewater for irrigation.

In addition, rain water catchments on nearly every building at Maho Bay Camps collect about 345,000 gallons of rainwater a year. This supplies water to the laundry, housekeeping facilities and the bathhouses. During periods of good rainfall, all the water for our bathhouses may be pure, filtered rainwater. Cisterns are strategically located so that water can flow by gravity without external energy sources. The resort uses 100 percent biodegradable laundry detergent and limits the amount of bleach. And, since laundry is done without the use of harsh chemicals, the resulting wastewater stream can be used for irrigation.

Sanitation and Water Treatment
Spring action faucets and showers at the resort prevent waste and low-flush toilets save up to three gallons per flush. In 1997, the resort installed clean and odor-free waterless urinals, made by The Waterless Company, saving 12,000 to 15,000 gallons of water per year. Wastewater is pumped into a large aeration tank where nature’s own bacteria breaks down and separates the solids. The system uses a process designed for small capacity operators by the Santec Corporation that includes sifting and chlorinating, which leave a clear liquid ready for reuse in the organic orchard and garden.

The resorts use of 2,000 to 7,000 gallons of “grey water” a day without allowing any to go into the bay. Lateral water lines carry the nutrient-rich effluent to the surrounding vegetation and to our organic orchard where we grow bananas, oranges, okra, limes, lemons, luffa gourds and papaya. Rain catchment from the shed and restaurant provides water for the organic garden where they grow a variety of edible and decorative plants including herbs for the kitchen. The garden beds are built from concrete that contains crushed recycled glass, and upside down bottles that minimize cement use and recycles even more glass.

Recycle, Re-use, Reduce
Glass, including bottles, is collected in bins and sorted, crushed and mixed for use in non-structural applications. Some glass is selected, washed, labels removed, crushed and sent to a special rebirthing station. Owner Stanley Selengut dedicated the Maho Bay Glass Re-manufacturing Facility in 1997. With the help of visiting glass artists, it has been producing high quality glass art and utilitarian objects ever since. The creations are sold on site and the proceeds help to support this and other environmental efforts at Maho Bay’s new Trash to Treasure Art Center. Aluminum Cans are collected and trucked by boat to St. Thomas where they are compacted and shipped back to the states to an aluminum foundry to be melted and made into new products.

The resort encourages guests to recycle and reuse and created an area where guests can leave items that are no longer of use to them but might be appreciated by someone else. The “Help Yourself” area has space for dried goods, perishables, books and magazines, kids’ stuff, and beach gear. What might have ended up in a landfill now becomes an unexpected gift.

Alternative Energy
Abundant sunlight in St. John makes solar energy an efficient and responsible choice although grid power is available as a backup. High-efficiency photovoltaic roof panels provide energy for lights, appliances and other equipment. The 25 Concordia Eco-tents are totally supported by renewable technologies. Here, solar energy is collected through photo-voltaic cells to energize refrigerators, fans, water pumps and electric lights. A cistern, solar hot water heater and a composting toilet add bathroom convenience without environmental impact. And the super-reflective roof fabric maintains a temperature much cooler under the fabric than on the surface, and provides a perfect surface for water collection. Concordia’s tent-cottages also feature showers that use hand pumps to fill a tank on the roof and gravity feed solar heated water to the showerhead.

For more information or to plan an eco vacation visit