Campbell River Whale Watching: Carbon Offsets & Protecting Old-Growth Forest

“We believe that amazing or inspiring moment of somebody seeing a whale for the first time […] can be used as a catalyst to get them to think about all the different pieces and interconnections in the world.”

Campbell River Whale Watching and Adventure Tours is proud to be northern Vancouver Island’s first carbon neutral eco-tour company. They offer whale watching and bear viewing, kayaking, and ocean rapid tours, and local food and wine experiences, all infused with an ethos of care for the environment. Owner and Operator Stephen Gabrysh says that being environmentally conscious is a passion that brings people together. “Everybody is trying to do their best to make sure we’re impacting the natural world as little as possible, and all of our guests are looking for the same thing […] it’s fairly easy to keep the strength for that passion going when you’re surrounded by like-minded people,” he says.

Campbell River Whale Watching’s commitments to the environment are inspired, in part, by Stephen’s personal journey to learn more about environmental stewardship. Stephen’s curiosity kindled a passion for nature that led him away from his previous work in the oil and gas industry. He moved back home to Campbell River, where he has strong family ties, and purchased Campbell River Whale Watching alongside his business partner Tyler Bruce, with the goal of becoming a carbon neutral company.

Guests taking photos on a whale watching tour outside Campbell River. Photo: Bluetree Photography

Sustainability in action: Audits, carbon offsets, and conservation fees

What does it mean to be a carbon neutral company? Stephen recounts the process of partnering with nature conservation non-profit Wilderness International to conduct a comprehensive audit and identify climate commitments that aligned with the company. “We always wanted to figure out a way to become carbon neutral, but wanted to support some sort of local project, and that’s where the partnership with Wilderness International was so good because they’re protecting forests, which is near and dear to our hearts,” says Stephen.

Wilderness International has a carbon offset program where they purchase forested land to legally protect it. This includes old-growth forest in the Toba Inlet where Campbell River Whale Watching conduct many of their tours. For every guest that joins a tour, the company protects one square meter of old-growth forest. “[It’s] something we talk about both during the tour, but also at the end of the tour, where we explain to guests the carbon calculation process and the carbon offsetting how carbon sequestering works, so the trees are sequestering the carbon over time,” says Stephen. As they leave the tour, guests get a postcard with a unique code they can input into the Wilderness International website. This triggers a personalized email with a drone image of the exact geo-coordinates of the piece of forest that guests protected via their participation on a wildlife tour.

Stephen explains how the company wanted to involve guests in the carbon offset program as both a transformational learning experience and a memento of their time in Campbell River. “It’s trying to tie the guest’s experience and what they saw there in the natural environment to this little piece of something they take with them […] and have this little piece of Canada that reminds them of their experience with us […] and ideally their environmental sustainability journey as well,” says Stephen. The carbon offset program was so engaging that the company added an option during the booking process for tour guests to make additional donations to purchase and protect more forest. These extra donations account for one-third of Campbell River Whale Watching’s total contributions to Wilderness International and demonstrate how eager many people are to act on behalf of the climate when they travel.

In addition to carbon offsets, Campbell River Whale Watching collects conservation fees on their tours to distribute to the North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association and the Commercial Bear Viewing Association, organizations that are crucial to protecting wildlife in the Campbell River region. You can read more details about the company’s sustainability goals and commitments here.

A pod of dolphins streams through the water. Photo via campbellriverwhalewatching,IG.

Connecting with nature

Stephen says each wildlife tour is an opportunity to connect more meaningfully to nature. When people have special encounters with wildlife in their natural habitats, it gets them to shift their mindset and think about how their day-to-day decisions affect the environment. “One of the biggest things that we’re trying to accomplish on our tours is that amazing or inspiring moment of someone seeing a whale for the first time […] being used as a catalyst to think about all of the different pieces and interconnections in the world,” says Stephen.

Tour guides and guests bond through their care for the environment. Stephen says the guides’ passion is contagious. It’s common for guests to stay after tours to ask questions and engage in conversation about Campbell River Whale Watching’s climate commitments. Responsible environmental practices are something more and more travellers expect from tour operators. “I think sustainability is really becoming something guests are choosing,” says Stephen.

Do you want to make your next adventure more sustainable? Learn more about Campbell River Whale Watching and book a tour here. The Spring Bear and Waterfall Tour starts in March and is a breathtaking way to see wildlife emerge from a long winter!

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