An examination of environmental practices used in commercial sea kayaking in British Columbia
The commercial sea kayaking sector of British Columbia’s tourism industry depends entirely on the pristine quality of the coastal environment. With more than 70,000 visitors choosing BC waters for their wilderness kayaking holidays, the potential for anthropogenic impact on the ecosystem is an undeniable reality. This study addressed this concern by examining the actions and behaviours being applied by commercial sea kayak guides while escorting clients through this fragile ecosystem. Through the use of observations, surveys, and interviews a multiple method approach to research enabled this study to capture an in depth understanding of the environmental practices being used by commercial sea kayak guides in British Columbia.
Undisclosed participant observations, allowed for the informative observation of seventeen guides to occur while minimizing the possibility of altered subject behaviour; the first guide observations of this kind in BC. This methodological approach was combined with a self-report survey of a larger sample of guides, which allowed for the inclusion of a greater spectrum of experiences and reported behaviours from active guides. Finally, a number of interviews with various industry professionals provided greater context surrounding actions, behaviours, and decisions made by those who operate in this industry.
The seventeen guides observed in this study, along with survey respondents and interviewees, collectively demonstrated a great respect for the wilderness environment and expressed actively trying to manage their associated impacts. However, despite being unintentional, the inconsistent use and misapplication of low impact practices were identified among the studied guiding population. In some cases this resulted in unnecessary human impacts on the environment. Interactions with wildlife and general camp management were identified as areas that displayed common weaknesses among guides. These weaknesses came in the form of frequent deviations from the best management practices outlined for this activity and endorsed by the related professional organizations. Interviews and survey responses suggested that these differences between the suggested best management practices and the actual practices applied may be a result of misinformed guides or those not educated on the specific environment in which they operated. Supporting this notion, more than 70% of the guides in this study encouraged the expansion of educational opportunities for current and upcoming guides; particularly in the form of workplace training which can accommodate regionally specific practices. Increasing the awareness of specific practices may result in more consistent use in the field setting.
Overall this study concluded that the consistency with which best management practices were being used at a guide level could be increased to further reduce the ecological impact of guided sea kayak adventures in British Columbia. Through increased training and more effective implementation of low impact techniques among commercial guides, it is hoped that the anthropogenic impacts can be minimized, the visitor attraction be maintained, and the overall sustainability of this industry be secured well into the future., kayaking, ecotourism, best management practice, environment, marine tourism