Naturalist Interview: Defining Coastal Culture

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Maple Leaf Naturalist and true character of the coast, Andy MacKinnon has an anecdote for every plant we might encounter on our morning tootle, which isn’t surprising considering he co-authored one of the coast’s most popular field guides for plants and is affectionately known as “the rockstar of B.C. botanists.”

When Andy’s not out on the field, he’s advising governments on old growth forest research, ecosystem mapping, land use and old growth issues, and forest conservation. He was also involved in the implementation of the historic land use plan for the Great Bear Rainforest area. We caught up with Andy to learn a little more about his connection to the coast, and what drives him to share its wonders through his Naturalist tenure.

What is it that defines west coastal culture, in your opinion?

Part of it is simply the place where we live—home to the biggest trees, the most carbon dense forests anywhere on earth, and the most ecologically diverse area on the entire planet at temperate latitudes.

It’s a remarkable place to be if you’re a biologist and a remarkable place to be if you love the outdoors. And if you are fortunate enough to be able to live and work where the ocean meets the fresh water meets these magnificent forests, it doesn’t really get any better. So a lot of what I think of as west coast culture is shaped by this magnificent environment that we’ve been graced with here. Whether you’re a biologist like me, someone who likes to climb mountains, or someone who likes to travel on boats—this is the place to be.

You have worked with Maple Leaf Adventures for many years. What is the culture like aboard?

I work with Maple Leaf for a week or two each year, solely for the enjoyment and adventure that’s in it. Both because I feel Maple Leaf hires some of the best mariners, chefs and naturalists on the coast of British Columbia—the people who know these places the best. But also because Maple Leaf trips draw a group of guests with a real appetite for adventure. And so you get this combination of a really crackerjack crew who are usually an awful lot of fun with a group of guests who are very excited to be there. And the combination is oftentimes magical.

What kinds of lessons about life on the coast do you hope guests will take from a trip with Maple Leaf?

I know for some of the guests, this is a trip of a lifetime. This is something that they’ve planned for. And I want to ensure people come away from the coast with a really good sense of the place. Of the ecosystems and the species and the magnificent landscapes. But also the people who have lived there for millennia and the people who have arrived more recently and chosen to make the west coast their home. And so, I hope when people go home, they have an authentic, genuine feel for the place that they visited.

It’s certainly not Sea World—we head out each day oftentimes not knowing what the adventure is going to be like. Will we see harbor seals or will we see whales? Will we see interesting birdlife or fabulous old village sites? Oftentimes we’re not certain what the day holds and a lot of the best adventures and the best memories are things we never anticipated and never planned for.


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