Whale Watching, Beach Cleanups, and Protecting the Ocean in Campbell River

“We need to be diligent and work at keeping our coast as beautiful as we can. ”

Discovery West Adventures is a whale watching and wildlife tour company based out of Brown’s Bay Resort, 19km north of Campbell River. Founder and operator Josh Grin worked for other eco-tourism companies in the region but was motivated to start his own business. He and his partner Chelsea Grin started Discovery West Adventures with a desire to tackle issues they were seeing out on the water, including marine debris. The team is making a difference alongside their customers. Since 2020, their Coastal Cleanup initiative has removed over 6,000 pounds of trash from local waterways.

A beautiful day whale watching with Discovery West Adventures. Photo credit: @discoverywest, IG

From impromptu to organized beach cleanup

Pacific Ocean currents spread marine debris across the West Coast year round; Broken fishing nets, old buoys, styrofoam and shipping plastics, can travel a long way and end up far out in the ocean or on the shores of remote beaches. Not only are the debris unsightly but they can, and do harm wildlife and ecosystems. Becoming frustrated with seeing garbage while out on the water, Josh knew he needed more hands to help. He set out to educate his wildlife tour guests on the importance of keeping the ocean clean and invited them to participate in on-the-go cleanups he was doing in the Campbell River area. “I always do a debriefing in the morning that if we see marine debris and if we have room in a boat, we’re gonna stop and pick it up. And everybody always wants to be that person that pulls it out of the water. So that’s super exciting,” he says. When the tours stopped for lunch, guests got in the habit of doing a quick scan of the beach they were on to pick up any garbage they could see.

Josh and his team started testing dedicated beach cleanup tours in 2020 with their Coastal Cleanup initiative. It was a natural extension of the work they were doing day-to-day, and they wanted to see if the enthusiasm guests showed on regular tours would translate to a more specific experience. They put a call out on social media and their first tour was fully booked within a few hours.

“We were […] kind of blown away by how excited everybody was to pay to come clean up the beaches. We were a little bit worried about charging people to clean up the beaches. But we did. We did a three hour whale watch in the morning. And then we stopped and found a beach and we did about a four hour cleanup. And then they had a big barbecue on the beach. And everybody was super pumped to want to do it again,” says Josh.

Vision for the future

Like many tourism businesses, Discovery West Adventures had a busy 2022 summer season as travel started to open up after the past two years of pandemic pause. Josh and his team were kept busy with the rising demand for wildlife tours but are using this winter to incorporate lessons from recent seasons about what excites and engages visitors on wildlife and beach clean-up tours,  and start planning for spring and summer 2023. Josh says he wants to aim for a monthly beach cleanup where half the day is whale watching and the other half is a dedicated beach cleanup.

In addition to Discovery West Adventure beach cleanups, Josh plans to organize yearly pre- and post-season beach cleanups in April and October with other tour operators in the Campbell River region. “I would love to see all the companies get together, even if it’s a two-day cleanup around the coast, because everybody’s got boats, everybody’s got lots of staff. [It’d be great] to try and get everybody wrangled together and pitch in [whether] it’s land based where you can drive to or boat access only,” he says. Josh says other whale watching companies have responded positively to the idea and he’s keen to get to work on collective efforts to take care of the ocean.

A glimpse of the incredible beaches and oceans that Discovery West Adventures help protect with their Coastal Cleanup tours. Photo credit: @discoverywest, IG

Education, changing behaviour, and preventing ocean garbage

Josh is big on education and prevention when it comes to minimizing human impact on marine environments. He’d like to see more signs and garbage cans along the coast to encourage both locals and visitors who spend time on beaches and trails to get rid of all their garbage rather than leaving it behind. The same goes for marinas, where he often sees people smoking and throwing their cigarette butts in the water.

At a larger scale, Josh wants local industries to take more responsibility for the ways they impact marine environments. He explains how winter storms and the elements can degrade aging infrastructure such as old docks that are left behind on the coast when companies leave. The result is debri being left in the water, which negatively impacts the ocean and all the animals that call it home. “There needs to be more accountability for what you’re putting into the ocean,” Josh says.

Do you want to join a beach cleanup as part of your wildlife viewing experience? Learn more about Discovery West Adventures and plan your tour today.

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