Exploring the Southern Great Bear Rainforest aboard SV Achiever 

Drew spends most of the year traveling to the most beautiful parts of Coastal British Columbia aboard SV Achiever - hop on for a breezy catch up.

Raincoast controls the commercial hunting rights in five guide outfitting tenures, totalling over 38,000 km2 of the Great Bear Rainforest. That is an area larger than Vancouver Island. We have purchased these tenures with our First Nations partners over the last thirteen years to permanently protect dozens of species from being commercially trophy hunted. Purchasing these tenures gives us the exclusive rights to commercially guide trophy hunters. Our hunters have a 0% success rate. 

Right now, we are raising funds to purchase the 18,239 km2 Southern Great Bear Rainforest tenure, more than a quarter of the Great Bear Rainforest. The Southern tenure contains significant populations of grizzlies, cougars, black bears, wolves, and Roosevelt elk.

Marine Operations Manager, and Achiever Captain, Drew Grav-Graham has had the opportunity to travel to the Southern Great Bear Rainforest numerous times. We sat down with him to hear about his experiences in the Southern tenure. 

Can you tell us about yourself and what you are up to these days?

When I started in the marine industry, I was working in the whale watching industry, which was a great way to get introduced to the local wildlife and ecology, as well as the effects humans have on the environment. As I was watching the effects of vessel disturbance on Southern Resident killer whales unfold in real time, I began to question the industry. I wondered if the experiences and “education” the whale watching industry was using to bolster themselves in the face of scientific and media scrutiny was, in fact, doing more harm than good. Then the covid-19 pandemic hit and, like so many other tourism jobs, mine was paused, which gave me an opportunity to reflect and readjust. A few months later, an opportunity to go to the Great Bear Rainforest working on a large marine debris removal project came up and I jumped on it! It was a chance to explore, spend time on boats, and ultimately do something that had a direct and positive impact on the coast.  

Since late 2020, I’ve been the Marine Operations manager and captain for Raincoast’s research vessel, SV Achiever, working along a diverse group of mariners and scientists, to further the study of coastal species and habitats.

Brian and Drew and the helm of the boat.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.
Brian looking through binoculars.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.
Drew driving SV Achiever.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

Can you tell us a bit more about the marine debris removal project

I was given an opportunity to head up to the central coast to be involved in a large-scale (9 ships, about 100 people) coastal clean up and marine debris removal project. I spent 3 weeks scrambling over rocks and landing zodiacs on surf exposed beaches, while we collected over 100 tonnes of marine debris. Watching wolves eating a sea lion carcass (and finding lots of chewed on plastic as well), bears foraging the shore, and then all the marine life living right up to the edge of the forest lines had such a pivotal effect on my desire to come back and not only spend more time, but also do something to have a positive impact on the ecosystem. 

This is where I met Brian Falconer, Raincoast Guide Outfitter program director. I had heard about Raincoast and their work on Southern Resident killer whales, but I didn’t know about Achiever nor did I know the work that Brian and the team had been doing to stop commercial trophy hunting on the central coast. 

You sometimes spend weeks at a time up there – how do these experiences shape the person you are? 

The short answer is, greatly and in a broad variety of ways. One can imagine the impact the remoteness and natural beauty would have, alongside the magic and wonder the variety and plentitude of marine and wildlife there is to experience up there. For me though, what shaped me most was assessing the effects we have on coastal ecosystems and connecting with the people living in these areas. 

There are huge tracts of forest and broken coast line, but with that volume comes its ability to very rawly and openly expose where humans have done damage. Whether it’s abandoned canneries and logging equipment, neglected sports fishing lodges, or the huge swaths of forest that have been cut, they stand out to an even greater extent when surrounded by the lands that have been stewarded by First Nations here for thousands of years. 

The other part for me comes from the people, the stories, personalities, and passion the folks living in these areas have for stewarding and protecting the land and wildlife. They have a knowledge and reverence that I find myself often looking to for inspiration and guidance when trying to navigate some of the issues we are faced with in a more urban setting. 

What has been your favourite wildlife encounter to date?

For me, the most exciting wildlife encounters are the ones where the forest connects with the sea. Last fall, we were departing an anchorage late in the morning after having risen early to try to spot some wolves we had heard the night before. Feeling a bit disappointed and ready for a second or third cup of coffee, I spotted some movement along the shore. It ended up being a mother black bear and three cubs born that same year. 

As we drifted onboard Achiever watching them forage along the beach, the mother bear decided to move to the other side of the bay, which allowed us to watch her and the three cubs slowly and reluctantly swam across the channel. We were able to actually see the cubs exhale as they struggled to keep up with their mother. Watching the little line of black bear heads and backs bobbing past us reminded me of orcas traveling along together, for even though the cubs were reluctant to enter the water, once in I was amazed at how proficient at swimming the young cubs were!

Mother and her three cubs walking along the shore.
Photo by Eric Sambol.
Mother black bear entering ocean with three young bears behind her.
Photo by Eric Sambol.
Two young black bears swimming.
Photo by Eric Sambol.

In your time there, have you heard stories from local communities about the positive effects of the tenure acquisitions?

Not only have I heard stories, but I’ve truly seen the effects first hand. Stories of bears running away from estuaries during salmon spawn when a boat approached has now changed to a thriving ecotourism industry that has a conservation focused approach and that is stewarded by  local First Nations communities. 

With these areas protected from commercial trophy hunting, wildlife, especially carnivores, have developed a tolerance to humans viewing them at a respectful distance from boats. Wildlife getting comfortable with humans in other regions can cause harm, as it makes it easier for hunters to take their shot, but in the places where we’ve purchased tenures, they’re protected. 

You can help

Raincoast’s in-house scientists, collaborating graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and professors make us unique among conservation groups. We work with First Nations, academic institutions, government, and other NGOs to build support and inform decisions that protect aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and the wildlife that depend on them. We conduct ethically applied, process-oriented, and hypothesis-driven research that has immediate and relevant utility for conservation deliberations and the collective body of scientific knowledge.

We investigate to understand coastal species and processes. We inform by bringing science to decision-makers and communities. We inspire action to protect wildlife and wildlife habitats.

Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.