CAMPBELL RIVER – When nature is your playground, you treat it with care.

Campbell River Whale Watching Adventure Tours (CRWW) has reduced their carbon footprint to zero. Any fuel they use to take guests to view whales and wilderness is countered by their sponsorship of protected forest.

When Stephen Gabrysh and Tyler Bruce took over CRWW almost a year ago, the company already had a Certified Silver Rating for Sustainable Tourism. The rating reflected company founder Jack Springer’s eco-upgrades to low-flow toilets, LED lights, and energy efficient engines.

Those measures also earned the company, and Springer who stayed on as general manger, a 2018 Tourism Vancouver Island Sustainability Award.

The new owners wanted to boost their environmental action. Completely berthing their boats wasn’t an option, so they looked for a way to ‘trade off’ the rest of their carbon footprint. Their choice was Wilderness International, a joint Canadian-German venture that gives environmentally conscious companies blocks of forest to rescue.

In 2018, Campbell River Whale Watching preserved 1.7 acres of old-growth forest, which was enough to counter the company’s carbon footprint by one-and-a-half times.

This year they’re ramping up their efforts to reduce their carbon footprint twice over. They are also inviting their guests to participate. For every passenger that books a tour, one square metre of old-growth forest will be protected. That passenger will have the square metre of forest registered in their name and will be sent the geo-coordinates for that patch of woodland along with a Wilderness International certificate.

Recipients can visit the Wilderness International website and view the square metre of forest preserved in their name.

Involving the guests has two goals. First, it gives each client a personalized, meaningful gift to commemorate their West Coast adventure. Appropriately, the forest being preserved is on Canada’s west coast. Second, Tyler and Stephen hope that the guests will also be inspired to personally contribute to the Wilderness International program, which will lead to more forest being preserved.

Campbell River Whale Watching’s goal is to preserve 3.7 acres of forest in 2019. Participating in the program allows them to be as environmentally responsible as possible.

“We’re a nature-based company,” Stephen observed. “We recognize that part of what we do damages nature, so this lets us compensate for our carbon footprint.”

Guests aboard the company’s boats get a close-up look at why nature needs to be preserved. During the peak season, the company takes about 500 people a week on tours that showcase the natural beauty of Vancouver Island.

They offer several different adventure tours. Their most popular is the full day Grizzly Bear tour, which is only available from mid-August to mid-October. Offered in partnership with Homalco First Nations, the nine-hour tour takes advantage of the salmon run in the Orford River to give guests a safe, ringside view of the giant bears.

“It’s a well-rounded day. You see bears, sea lions, seals, eagles, porpoise, dolphins, and whales,” Tyler said.

The adventure starts with a two-hour boat journey to Bute Inlet which usually includes whale sightings and other wildlife. Landing in Bute Inlet, participants are taken by small tour vans to viewing platforms overlooking the river. Intent on foraging for salmon in advance of hibernation, the bears ignore the audience.

The two-hour boat ride back to Campbell River usually includes more whale sightings and other wildlife.

From March to October, the company offers different lengths of whale watching tours, starting with a four-hour experience. There are also six and eight-hour tours. Each boat holds a maximum of 12 people, so the company meets demand with multiple boats: four high speed Zodiacs for the adventurous and 3 covered cruise boats. They also offer fishing trips.

Adrenaline junkies love the Ocean Rapids Tours, available only a few days a month at peak tides, when the speed of the rapids reaches 14 knots. When a Zodiac pushed by 600 horsepower engines smashes through a standing wave, the impact is like a natural roller coaster.

“It’s extremely unique and very fun,” Stephen said. “We run through the standing wave and get everyone wet.”

New this year are several land-based tours, which will give visitors an additional opportunity to experience the culture as well as the natural beauty of the island.

For Stephen and Tyler, acquiring this business gave them their dream jobs. Both have backgrounds in boating, fishing, and hiking the wilderness.

“We do everything we love to do and make it our job and share it,” Tyler said.

Stephen agreed. “We get to drive boats, watch the wildlife, have fun – and save the forest.”