Australians Rory and Melita Hunter were exploring the Koh Rong Archipelago, in Cambodia’s remote southwest, when they stumbled across the twin islands of Koh Ouen and Koh Bong, known as Song Saa – Khmer for ‘the Sweethearts’

Although the natural beauty of the islands was undeniable and the warmth of local communities captivating, the couple were shocked by the toll human activity had taken on the local environment. The reefs were showing the effects of destructive fishing practices, and with no waste management system in place, the iåslands were littered with rubbish.

Roll forward eight years, and there has been a dramatic change. The couple have established Cambodia’s first private island resort, and with it the Kingdom’s first marine protected area. Here lies an oasis of virgin rainforests, tropical reefs and glistening white beaches. The resort has been recognised for pioneering a new model for sustainability, employing the local community and recycling locally sourced materials to create their 27-villa eco-luxury resort. An excess of half-a-million dollars has been spent on conservation efforts, and the resort recently founded a separate organisation called The Song Saa Foundation, to carry the Hunters’ aspirations of a sustainable and vibrant Koh Rong Archipelago forward into the future.

With Dr Wayne McCallum at the helm – a man who brings over 16 years of experience in development and environmental management – the Foundation is expanding on many of its current initiatives, while also exploring new opportunities. One example of this is the plan to construct the first ever floating education centre for the lower Mekong region. Once completed, the ‘Boat of Hope’ will allow the Foundation to take its sustainability message out to all communities in the Koh Rong Archipelago – and beyond. As the Foundation grows, it is also turning its mind to other forms of social responsibility, including better health care for communities that are isolated from medical care.

Rory and Melita’s aspiration is for the Foundation to continue to evolve as an example of how a sustainable, ethical and nurturing approach to development can achieve multiple benefits – for people and the natural environment.

Guests on the island can receive first-hand information at the Foundation’s dedicated Discovery Centre. While the resort’s Director of Conservation and Foundation ambassador, Barnaby Olson, is available to answer questions about the Archipelago’s unique environment and people.

The team behind the foundation – which is made up of five community development specialists and marine biologists – are implementing initiatives to build upon the original work in helping the surrounding communities. Recent achievements include the expansion of the original marine reserve to 100 times the size, setting up a midwifery clinic in the local community, and providing solar power to the local school.

Last year, Song Saa Resort won the Travel & Leisure Global Vision award and ‘Best Accommodation for the Environment’ in the Virgin Responsible Travel Awards.