How Tofino’s NGOs are teaching visitors about the value of restoration

Jamie Sterling

16 April 2024

“I can’t claim to love the ocean, and live by it, and eat from it, and play on it, if I’m not prepared to be part of protecting it and restoring it.” – Michelle Hall


You might assume that Redd Fish Restoration Society and Clayoquot Biosphere Trust wouldn’t top a Tofino visitor’s sightseeing list, and you’d probably be right. Yet these non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are more than environmental stewards—they’re catalysts for visitor education that other places can learn from. Both organizations are weaving connections between businesses, the community, and travel experiences to make a positive impact through conservation and restoration.

In this two-part episode of Travel Beyond, we find out how these NGOs are inspiring visitors to care for the coast in an area designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Part one features Emily Fulton, Biologist and Marine Coordinator at Redd Fish Restoration Society. She engages the local Tofino community in long-term restoration projects that protect salmon habitats. 

“There are people that come and visit the west coast specifically around events that Redd Fish coordinates, and part of those events often are volunteer days, and it’s really, really awesome when you see people building a trip around […] wanting to give back.” – Emily Fulton


In part two, we hear from Michelle Hall, Campaign and Donor Relations Lead at Clayoquot Biosphere Trust (CBT), who has long been working with locals and visitors on environmental projects. She’s a key figure behind the not-yet-built Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Centre. Through the CBT, visitors can gain deeper knowledge of local ecosystems and the work being done to conserve and restore them, taking away sustainable values, which is one way that travel here is making the world better. 

You’ll also learn:

  • About long-term restoration projects in Načiks (Tofino), including salmon habitat restoration and the creation of Clayoquot Biosphere Centre in collaboration with local First Nations members.
  • How campaigns by Surfrider Foundation Canada involve locals and travellers in beach clean-up, and how businesses were invited to participate.
  • How circular economy projects are reducing waste in Tofino.
  • Advice for organizations looking to engage visitors through education.
  • Advice for travellers looking to make a positive impact when they visit.


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Show notes

Clayoquot Biosphere Trust – a non-profit organization leading biosphere stewardship, philanthropy, and community building.  

Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Centre – a gathering place for local communities to advance climate action, reconciliation, youth empowerment, biodiversity conservation, and sustainable development, estimated to be complete in 2026.

Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve – A UNESCO-designated site for learning on the west coast of Vancouver Island near Tofino.  

Redd Fish Restoration Society – A non-profit organization focused on ecosystem restoration, research, and education.


Episode transcript

Part one, with Emily Fulton of Redd Fish Restoration Society

David Archer: Hello, and welcome to Travel Beyond, where we partner with leading destinations to bring you inspiring solutions to the greatest challenges facing communities and the planet. I’m David Archer from Destination Think, recording from Daajing Giids, British Columbia, a village in Haida Gwaii, the territory of the Haida Nation.

Tyler Robinson: And I’m Tyler Robinson, Climate Strategist at Destination Think. I’m recording from Toronto, the traditional territory of many nations, including the Mississauga of the Credit, the Anishinaabe, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat peoples. 

On this show, we look at the role of travel and highlight destinations that are global leaders. We talk to the changemakers who are addressing regenerative travel through their action in their communities, often from the bottom up.

David Archer: And we’re always looking for the best examples of efforts to regenerate economies, communities, and ecosystems. Please reach out if you have a story to share. You can contact me at David at 

Okay, well this is our final episode of the season, and it’s a two-parter. We’re bringing you two guests who are teaching visitors the value of restoration but first, we’ve covered a lot of ground this season, so I want to do a bit of a round-up to begin with. Along the way this season we’ve heard from leaders of the Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nations about how their ancestors have cared for their lands for millennia. And we heard how their communities continue their culture by stewarding those lands today. We’ve learned about the values behind that stewardship.

We’ve learned about the logging blockade of the 1980s and the struggle called the War of the Woods. That blockade and legal battle led to the creation of the Tribal Park system, and we heard directly from Elders who were the vanguard of that movement. 

We’ve talked about why there’s no such thing as wilderness for the Tla-o-qui-aht and many other Indigenous cultures and, and how we might begin to deconstruct colonial myths that shape how we think about travel today. 

We’ve talked about several actions that the Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nations are taking to rebuild and restore ecosystems with the assistance of tourism businesses. And those include sustainability fees implemented by both nations, the Ahousaht social enterprise that is spurring economic development there, the Tofino Wilderness Resort, a lodge being used for community wellness, the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks Allies program, and a local Tofino business with the goal of rallying other local businesses in tourism and spreading that solution elsewhere. 

Brad at Tourism Tofino told us about the opportunity for Indigenous tourism and the responsibility of the tourism industry to build strong relationships at its foundation. He also told us in episode one about the harrowing summer of wildfire from last year when Tofino’s only highway access was severed for 17 days.

Tyler Robinson: Yeah, we’ve definitely learned a lot, David. And we’ve seen how strong the local values in Tofino really are when it comes to environmental stewardship. And how, with the introduction of programs like the Tribal Parks Allies, settler businesses and residents are finding new ways to build relationships with First Nation communities.

And so for our last episode this season, in that spirit of growing cooperation, today we’re going to turn towards another thriving stream of community support for stewardship. We’ll hear from two of the local NGOs that are getting their hands dirty in restoration work, and who also help visitors to understand how to take better care of Tofino when they visit.

David Archer: Yeah, and I’m thinking about what Tourism Tofino CEO Brad Parsell said right from the beginning, that tourism activity, and by extension, the restoration it depends on, is all about relationships. And that in Tofino, First Nations values are starting to inform more and more of the work going on locally.

“I think it’s really important that we slow that down and take the time to build those relationships, especially with First Nations. And there’s many nations on the West Coast of Vancouver Island as well as the Tla-o-qui-aht whose territory we are in. So I think what’s going to be really important for me when I think about reconciliation is that nothing happens without having that relationship, that foundation first and foremost. So it’s putting in that time.” 

David Archer: Some of that foundational relationship building happens among the tourism industry, and some of it also happens within the local NGOs working on stewardship or climate projects. 

And one of our guests, Michelle Hall, who has been involved with several local organizations including the Surfrider Foundation, notes there are many, many non-profits working on related issues in Tofino. So Tyler, as you work on destination management strategies, sometimes involving climate action plans, how do non-profits factor into those plans as collaborators? 

Tyler Robinson: Yeah, I, I actually had the pleasure of working with the Surfrider Foundation in Tofino on some initiatives, including some of their cleanup projects, and they do a lot of great work. And I’m grateful to all the passionate people that I’ve met during those projects. 

In terms of nonprofits fitting into destination management plans or sustainability strategies, they really play a crucial role, especially when it comes to executing those destination management strategies or climate action plans. 

The existence of certain types of nonprofits in a region, I find, can be a helpful indicator of the types of issues that are falling through the cracks or, or maybe, they could be an indication of underfunded programs that the community thinks are a priority.

So in the early days of developing a strategy, taking an inventory of the nonprofits in an area and the issues that they’re tackling is a really good starting point for understanding community needs. 

And then when it comes to executing a strategy, nonprofits again play a crucial role, because they’re often one of the biggest levers to create change. We don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel or start a bunch of new projects to create change after we’ve developed a strategy, we can often just find ways to support and accelerate the great work that’s already being done by the people closest to the issue that have years of experience dealing with the issue and, and have all the local context and knowledge.

David Archer: Yeah, and some of those organizations are sharing that local knowledge with visitors in some ways. What role do you see for environmental NGOs? What role do they play most often when it comes to visitor education or, or voluntourism?

Tyler Robinson: They can definitely play a very impactful role, especially when it comes to voluntourism. I feel like there’s no better way to immerse yourself in a place as a visitor than participating in an initiative alongside locals as they work on something that they’re super passionate about to shape their home in alignment with their values.

David Archer: Yeah, both of our guests today talk about the impact that might make and, and “developing a culture of thinking about your impact” is how one of them put it. How can we help that culture keep growing? It seems like we need ideas like mindful travel or conscious travel, regenerative travel, or ecotourism to become more of a norm instead of a niche. Do you have any suggestions for keeping that culture growing?

Tyler Robinson: Yeah, it’s really a mindset shift as a visitor, and I guess it becomes more second nature if practiced enough, but it’s about being curious, it’s about being a lifelong learner so that you engage with a place, you learn about a place and its history, either before you visit or as you move through it. It’s about being conscious about the balance between how much you take versus how much you give back to a place. 

Another piece is, is challenging our conscious or subconscious feelings of entitlement. At least from a Western perspective, we can sometimes feel a little bit entitled to, to move about the world when and how we want. And that comes back to really just being a good guest as you move through a place and, and realizing that it’s, it’s someone else’s home, and you don’t necessarily have the right to be there at any time.

And if we have the privilege of having travel in our lives, we have the power to have a lot of positive or negative impacts depending on how we engage with it.

David Archer: Yeah. And our, our next guest is definitely helping locals and visitors think about the impact of their travel and their visits, and maybe even how they’re hosting as well. Let’s go now to Emily Fulton, who is a biologist and Marine Coordinator at Redd Fish Restoration Society, one of those local NGOs we were talking about. Here’s Emily. 

Emily Fulton: My name is Emily Fulton and I work for Redd Fish Restoration Society as the Marine Coordinator. I moved out here in 2015 for a summer job and kind of never left. I think that’s a pretty common story for, um, a lot of people, but I grew up on Vancouver Island and used to spend quite a bit of time recreating out here as a young person.

And, yeah, it’s, it’s captivating. And it’s easy to visit here and really feel the sense of community and not want to leave. 

My dad was a diver, commercial diver when I was young, and he’d come home from work and talk about all the wild things he saw. And so I was just really captivated by nature. And I think when it came time to go to university, it wasn’t even really a thought. I think we have a real responsibility to look to the environment and understand what habitat has been lost or what disruptions we’ve made in recent years, and being able to be involved in the restoration space is really inspiring.

It’s easy in this day and age to be bogged down by bad news, just constant cycles of climate change and species extinction and all of these things, and it can be really crippling. Like, I get major eco despair, anxiety, and it can be easy to do nothing, but restoration is this actionable thing.

Like, we are out assessing ecosystems, monitoring what’s going on, building restoration plans and prescriptions, and then actually taking action. And it’s easy to be committed to something when you can do it and see the immediate impacts and it’s encouraging and it feels good to do something and not just be frozen when you hear all that negative messaging.

Rodney Payne: What excites you most about the work that you’re doing?

Emily Fulton: I think I’m most excited to be doing restoration and to be involved with these projects firstly because we’re seeing it work. It’s really exciting. You, you see a structure go in, in a river, and the next season you see that it’s created a pool, and it’s created habitat for spawning salmon coming back to the river, or habitat for juveniles as they’re out migrating, and it’s immediately benefiting this ecosystem. So that’s definitely one thing. It’s, it’s just exciting to, to take action and see it work.

But it’s also been really great to see all of the engagement with youth. That’s something that I’m really excited about. And not just youth, but everybody who comes into the, the Redd Fish Shop or comes to our events or engages with us on, online. It’s really, really cool to see how excited people are and how much people want to get involved with this. So it’s a, a growing industry and it’s, feels good to be a part of. 

Rodney Payne: There’s so many species of plants and wildlife along the west coast. Why are salmon so important?

Emily Fulton: We are so fortunate to live in a very diverse area. The coastal temperate rainforest is home to thousands of species, like you said, of plants and animals.

Salmon are a keystone species. They really bring it all together. And they’re an interesting species in terms of something that connects our really diverse, interesting, complex marine ecosystems to our terrestrial ecosystems.

They spend part of their life in fresh water. They go out to sea and they come back. And they form this bridge between those two. And they fertilize our forests. When you think of British Columbia and you think of the west coast of Vancouver Island, you think of big monumental cedar trees and you know, these moss-covered ancient forests.

And we wouldn’t have that unless we had salmon. And we wouldn’t have the thriving communities of people if we didn’t have salmon too. Like it’s very ecosystem based, but it’s also a resource that’s so important socially and culturally. And we had thriving First Nation communities up and down the coast for thousands of years, because we’re so resource rich, and a huge part of that’s fish-based, salmon-based.

Rodney Payne: What are some of the biggest threats to salmon habitat?

Emily Fulton: Salmon, like I said, are in marine and freshwater ecosystems. And freshwater ecosystems have been really severely impacted, largely by logging. Around Tofino, Clayoquot Sound, there was logging In the 30s and the 40s, mostly marine-based. So people on barges and just harvesting logs and falling them into the water, barging them away.

But in the 50s, things got more industrial. People were logging whole valley bottoms right up to the rivers. And then in the 80s it was more upper watershed logging. So once they got all the big trees in the valley bottoms they looked back. 

And just inherently how our landscape is in this area, we’ve got pretty steep mountains. And without trees holding the soils, they’re so prone to landslides. We get, in some areas, over three metres of rain a year, which is pretty spectacular. And when you think about all these forests gone, that’s just a huge amount of sediment that can transfer from the mountainsides into the fresh water. It’s choking up the rivers. It’s totally altering these ecosystems. So a river a hundred years ago that might have been meandering and complex and a narrow and deep channel with lots of pools and cover and big fallen trees on it is now four times as wide, really shallow, filled with gravel, there’s no big trees that are holding the banks of the river together, there’s no shade, and it’s just night-and day-difference.

I’m sure if you were able to find a time machine and go back and look at some of these areas we’ve worked in from 200 years ago versus now, it would be unrecognizable. We are doing our best to speed up the recovery, and these ecosystems are resilient, but it can take hundreds of years.

Rodney Payne: You mentioned climate change. How’s the climate crisis connected to the challenge locally with salmon?

Emily Fulton: Salmon are kind of mysterious, uh, despite being celebrities. When they’re out in marine ecosystems, we don’t know exactly where they’re going. We don’t know exactly what they’re doing. We don’t know what they’re eating.

There’s lots of people, incredibly brilliant people, studying this, and we’re learning more and more every day. But climate change is certainly impacting food webs. We’re not really sure what’s going on with ocean temperatures, acidification, how that’s impacting what salmon are going to forage on when they’re out at sea. It could be changing their migration pathways. And then you look to freshwater ecosystems and it’s definitely easier to monitor. We know where fish are going when they’re going upstream. We know that some of these areas are heating up. The thermal thresholds that these fish can handle are, they’re not huge windows

So water temperature in freshwater ecosystems is, is a challenge. And with climate change, we’ve got increased frequency and intensity of storms. We’re having more atmospheric rivers and, and all of these events that, you’d call it a 200-year storm, now it’s an every year storm. 

When you’ve got that amount of rain coming down these steep slopes into a river, we don’t have the big trees to hold back that water. We don’t have the big trees to hold that loose sediment. We’ve got more opportunities for landslides and sediment entering these systems. When you have debris entering a river and high flows, you also have the risk of scouring out the gravel in this river. So you’ve got tumbling logs, and, and the river, like I said, has been widened.

It’s been moved so much. A little meandering deep stream. is now wide and it’s shallow. And it’s kind of like, a bowling alley versus this, like, nice snaking ecosystem. So the water can travel really fast down a river and that’s not good, that’s not good for the river itself and the hydrology, but it’s also terrible if you think of a salmon laying its eggs in October and it’s still pretty nice out, we’re getting little rains and then we get a crazy flood and major storm in November. Those eggs that are laid in the gravel are going to get swept out. Those little gravel nests called reds can be destroyed. And it’s not that this didn’t used to happen, but things are just happening more frequently and more intensely. And you don’t know what the next year holds.

Rodney Payne: Can you tell us a little bit about the Redd Fish Society and how it came about?

Emily Fulton: Yeah. Redd Fish has been around since 1995, and it was formed with loggers and First Nations, representatives, biologists, other industry professionals, in an effort to address loss of habitat and preserve wild fish stocks. 

Redd Fish, at that time known as Central West Coast Forest Society, was a way for people to come together, an apolitical society to bring these people who have really great skill sets, and maybe reroute those skill sets to address an issue and start working towards restoration.

Rodney Payne: How’s Redd Fish funded?

Emily Fulton: We are funded largely by grants. So we are a charitable society, a not-for-profit, and we’ve got some pretty brilliant minds who are working very hard almost every day of the year to write grants. And we’ve been fortunate with provincial funding and federal funding, and then lots of private funders as well.

And we also really need to give kudos to our local community and people on the west coast and beyond who hear about the work we do and support, whether it’s financially or just by sharing what we do and encouraging other folks to learn about restoration and check out Redd Fish.

Rodney Payne: We’re sitting in a store filled with really cool products here. Does tourism play a part in your funding at all?

Emily Fulton: Yeah, I’d say we are in a pretty unique position. We are located in an area that is a destination and there’s lots of people who frequent Tofino, frequent Ucluelet, and hopefully those people want to come by our shop. And it is an opportunity for us to engage with folks who maybe wouldn’t have learned about restoration or learned about the work that we do while they’re traveling in this area.

So I would say that the way that tourism is most connected to the work that Redd Fish does is, we’re able to engage with education. And the more people that we can teach about restoration and about the importance of restoration, the better off we’ll be, because that can translate to funding opportunities in the future or just more voices lobbying for the need for governments to invest in, in restoration.

Rodney Payne: Do you see other organizations like yours in other places?

Emily Fulton: Yes and no. I think that we are in a really unique position, where we’re, we are leading this place based restoration. There’s lots of consulting companies and, you know, big firms that are doing large-scale projects, and I can only speak to what I am involved with, but I think that Redd Fish is quite unique that we do work on projects that are long-term.

There are some pretty big moving parts to some of our projects, but there’s also a lot of focus on small, boots-on-the-ground things and ways to engage with the local community and youth and volunteers. And restoration doesn’t have to be this massive thing with tons of machinery. 

And we do really focus on, like I said, place-based. So, we have been operating here since 1995. We’ve got pretty deep connections with the community and the stakeholders here, and a lot of respect between all of these stakeholders. And we have been able to be so successful because we’ve been at it for so long, and we have really invested in connecting with what people want in these areas. And I think that we have been able to model what other places could use in terms of a restoration society. 

Rodney Payne: What do you think others can learn from you? If other places have. organizations trying similar things or thinking about setting up an organization like this, what are some of the things you’ve learned that you think people need to know?

Emily Fulton: I think the biggest takeaway for conducting work like we do and from this organizational level is putting the time in to invest in your community and create relationships that are meaningful and respectful and understand what your community needs. It’s never going to work if you parachute in and say, I’ve got a project. You should want this to happen. You need to know what is needed and understand the area that you’re working in. And so Redd Fish works with five local Nuu-chah-nulth Nations. We work with Hesquiaht, Ahousaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, Yuu-cluth-aht, and Toquaht. And all of our projects are informed by leaders from these Nations. 

So we’re not looking at an area and going, this is something that needs to be done. We’re going to drop in and do it, but we’re listening. And we understand what the people want out of these areas. And we’re using science and technology for monitoring and, and we’re looking at escapement data, so the, the number of fish that are coming back and trends over the years, but we’re also listening to Indigenous leaders and learning from their knowledge and what values they have. And, you know, how logging may have disrupted these ecosystems that used to be thriving and provide a lot of services for the community.

So I really think that a lot can be said for relationship building and, and having meaningful partnerships and putting time in to create that before getting to work.

And taking time to educate. Why is this important? And not just with the people that you’re working alongside, but the people who might not, might think they don’t care about what you’re doing, but talk to the, the folks that you see in the community and hear what they have to say, and they might have, you know, a really great take on a problem that you don’t know what the solution is for. So just being really open and taking the time.

Rodney Payne: There’s a really delicate balance that you’re circling around in terms of part education and part listening and creating dialogue.

Emily Fulton: How do you really engage with people? And how do you really help them to understand how vital it is what you’re doing, when everyone’s so busy and maybe not as connected as we need to be? 

I think it can be hard to make people care about what you think is so important. And you need to relate it back to what it is that they’re invested in. Whether you’re trying to save a population of sockeye that spawn on beaches of a lake that are really unique, or you’re looking at an area where salamanders used to lay their eggs and they can’t anymore because there’s no water in a creek, whatever it might be, you need to understand how that can relate to the person that you’re trying to give this messaging to.

It’s all about, connecting it to their day-to-day life. And sometimes that’s hard, sometimes that’s easy. In our region, I think that salmon is a resource that, it is pretty easy to understand how it really, really impacts everybody and every being that’s living on the coast here. So we are fortunate working in an area and working towards preserving something that does have a common thread. But understanding your messaging is, is really important and how you can connect these things to people’s day-to-day lives, because it can be hard. Even speaking with somebody about our restoration work in downtown Vancouver, it’s probably not going to hit as hard as if we’re speaking to them about our restoration work standing in the forest outside of Tofino.

Rodney Payne: How do you see visitors treating the environment when they come?

Emily Fulton: I think visitors are respectful for the most part. There are a lot of people who work hard to inform visitors on how to be respectful in these areas, whether it’s Tourism Tofino, or the hotel that these people are staying at, or messaging from Surfrider or Redd Fish.

We want people to be visiting these areas in a responsible way, and if we notice that people are not necessarily treating the environment in the way that they should be as they’re visiting, it’s likely a function that they didn’t know. And that’s an opportunity to then share better practices and become that educator and increase what sustainable tourism looks like.

Rodney Payne: In your work, do you notice any direct negative impact from tourism on ecosystems?

Emily Fulton: I think when folks are maybe not educated as they should be, there can be, you know, destruction just from more feet trampling a trail. More people leaving a little bit of garbage. But when it’s ten times more people than we saw ten years ago, that little bit of garbage is a lot of garbage.

There are areas that we’ve seen negative impacts from an increased number of people visiting the west coast, but I think that there are opportunities for us to work with other agencies to prevent that negative impact from happening or lessen it. 

Rodney Payne: What support would you love from the tourism industry and tourism businesses here?

Emily Fulton: think just increased awareness about how visitation can be impactful to these natural spaces and increased awareness around what we can do to mitigate that. So having people visit the coast is not inherently bad, but having people visit the coast and, and not understand what their footprint is could be.

And I think that we’re doing a, a disservice to the space and to the people visiting the space if we don’t invest in that messaging. This is what this ecosystem looks like now. This is what it used to look like. And this is what we’re doing to restore these areas. And this is what you can do to restore these areas. And take an active part in your holiday. Maybe we’re not going to, you know, strap a hard hat on you and send you into the woods. But we can teach you about the value of restoration.

There are a lot of opportunities for further messaging to go out to visitors.

Rodney Payne: Do you see much voluntourism happening?

Emily Fulton: I think there are a lot of people that on their visit, maybe it’s not their first visit to Tofino or Ucluelet, but they’ve been made aware of different ways that they can get involved, and then they build that into their vacation next time they come out. And that’s really cool. 

There are people that come and visit the west coast specifically around events that Redd Fish coordinates. And part of those events often are volunteer days. And it’s really, really awesome when you see people building a trip around, you know, wanting to give back. 

And I think it does really create a more meaningful trip. If you look back at your photo album, you’re like, Oh wow, yeah, I planted trees with my kids when I came out for a surf trip. And that’s, that’s something that you’ll remember more than just a regular camping trip. 

Rodney Payne: What advice do you have for visitors who really want to make a difference when they visit?

Emily Fulton: Do a little bit of research. You don’t have to do a ton of homework before your vacation, but think about where you’re going. Look at the, the tourism website. If you’re looking at Tourism Tofino or Tourism Ucluelet or whichever town you’re visiting, look at the resources that they have available.

Understand what’s going on while you’re there. What’s going on, what’s going on throughout the year, and understand how the community works, fishing, logging, tourism. Understand what makes the place tick. And I think you’re going to get a lot more out of your visit. if you have that little bit of background info on why the community is there, and why it is the way that it is, and learning a little bit about the people who live here, and the culture, and why it is so special. I think you’re just going to enrich your experience.

Rodney Payne: if you imagine a fully restored ecosystem, what does it look like for you? 

Emily Fulton: What a dream. A fully restored ecosystem. First of all, that’s something that Redd Fish can’t achieve on our own. We’re just accelerating natural processes. We’re helping nature along, and nature is resilient, and these forests, uh, and these rivers might get back to a restored state on their own, but it could take hundreds and hundreds of years. So we’re just, we’re a helping hand, uh, accelerating those processes.

In my mind, a restored ecosystem is one that is functioning for, for everything. So there’s, there’s big healthy trees, there’s diversity in species, there’s fish coming back to these rivers. There’s eagles and bears and wolves and cougars and insects and birds.

And you see the complexity in everything. You know, if you stop and look at a log, you might see 25 species of moss. When we’re looking at restoration and the success of restoration, we do need to look beyond the ecosystem as well, because it’s not just about the environment, but it’s about our social environment and our cultural environment, and do we have healthy watersheds?

If we do, you know, we’re going to be able to have healthy communities. So are people thriving, and are they happy, and are they making a, a living, and able to give back into this work? Then I think were restored.

Rodney Payne: And what gives you the most hope for the future?

Emily Fulton: I had a meeting yesterday with some pretty inspiring people who lead youth programming with Indigenous youth. And I think that the interest from younger people in restoration and in understanding these ecosystem processes and what we can do to make a difference is really inspiring.

And it’s something that I think a lot of us, we didn’t, we didn’t know this work existed when we were young. And it’s really, really cool to see young people getting involved and reaching out on their own accord and wanting to take on ownership, and Indigenous youth especially, looking to their traditional territories and wanting to get back out on the land and restore these ecosystems that have been damaged for years and years and years. But we see the opportunities to bring them back, and to bring fish back, and to create healthy, thriving landscapes. 

Rodney Payne: Awesome. Thank you for sitting down with us today to share your wisdom.

Emily Fulton: Yeah, my pleasure. I’m happy to share. 

This has been Travel Beyond, presented by Destination Think. In part 1 of this episode, you heard from Rodney Payne speaking with Emily Fulton of Redd Fish Restoration Society. Shout-out to Brad Parsell, CEO at Tourism Tofino, who also made a cameo today. 

For part 2, coming next week, Michelle Hall from the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust will join us to talk about even more examples of visitors and local businesses getting involved in restoration work.

For more resources and show notes, visit the blog at 

This episode was produced and has theme music composed by me, David Archer. My co-host is Tyler Robinson. My co-producer is Sara Raymond de Booy. Lindsay Payne, Annika Rautiola, and Katie Shriner provided production support. 

If you like what you hear, please take a moment to give us a 5-star rating on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. It helps more people find our show.

We would like to thank Tourism Tofino for sponsoring this season of Travel Beyond. And we want to thank the many local community members, including leaders from the Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nations, for entrusting us with their stories. 

Next time, part 2. See you then.

Part two, with Michelle Hall of Clayoquot Biosphere Trust

David Archer: Hello and welcome to Travel Beyond, where we partner with leading destinations to bring you solutions to the greatest challenges facing communities and the planet. I’m David Archer from Destination Think. I’m recording from Daajing Giids, British Columbia, which is a village in Haida Gwaii, the territory of the Haida Nation.

On this show we look at the role of travel and highlight destinations that are global leaders. We talk to the changemakers who are addressing regenerative travel, through action in their communities, often from the bottom-up. 

Welcome to part 2 of our final episode of this Tofino season. If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend you listen to part 1 first. That came out last week, and Tyler and I had fun learning all about the long-term restoration work being done alongside community members and visitors thanks to Emily Fulton of Redd Fish Restoration Society.

Our next guest is also passionate about teaching visitors the value of restoring the environment and getting them involved, too while they’re having their Tofino holiday.

Michelle Hall wears a number of professional hats. She is an environmental policy analyst, she’s the Campaign & Donor Relations Lead at Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, she’s a tourism business operator, and she was also instrumental in developing a local NGO called Surfrider Foundation Canada. Michelle is really prolific in the work she’s done in areas where tourism and sustainability overlap, and so I think she’s the perfect person to close off our season. I think you’ll get a lot from the energy she brings to this interview. 

So let’s get right to it. Here is Rodney speaking with Michelle.

Michelle Hall: My name is Michelle Hall and I currently work for the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, who is the local community foundation and also the steward of the UNESCO Biosphere Region. And I’m also a lifelong volunteer with the Surfrider Foundation.

Rodney Payne: And where are we right now?

Michelle Hall: We’re in the unceded territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation.

Rodney Payne: And we’re looking out at a beautiful view. Can you tell me about it? 

Michelle Hall: Yeah, it’s so wonderful to be here on the inlet of Tofino, and it’s also the mudflats, so it is this delicious combination of sand, mud, eelgrass, and it’s not very great to walk on. But there’s tons of critters that live underneath that mixture that tons of migrating birds come and feed off. So what it means is that there’s so many wonderful birds around all time of the year. And yeah, you basically become a bird nerd when you live here. Yeah.

Rodney Payne: What’s your connection to the area?

Michelle Hall: I moved here 11 years ago after stumbling on Tofino. Recommended to visit for a surf trip with a friend. And like many other settlers here in Tofino, I just didn’t want to leave. So I set up a business with my husband in tourism called Cedarwood Cove. And we host guests from around the world and invite them to play outside with us.

Rodney Payne: And what do you love about it?

Michelle Hall: I love meeting international guests and seeing different types of cultures and diversity. And it’s just great to help people have access to this. Not many people have this direct access to the ocean and wildlife. And it’s just so wonderful to share it with people.

Rodney Payne: And do you prefer to call this Tofino, or something else? 

Michelle Hall: Um well a lot of people recognize this place as Tofino, but it is the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation, and that’s becoming much more well-used and talked about, which is great.

Rodney Payne: And are you starting to see Indigenous values become more prevalent?

Michelle Hall: Yes, I’ve definitely seen the values of Tofino shift in the 11 years that I’ve been here. When I first moved here it was definitely all about live like a local, and what does that mean to be a local, and not really understanding the concept of the people who’ve been here for time immemorial. And the people who visit here may not recognizing that either.

Yeah, I think in the last decade, we’ve seen more of a shift in cultural interests, Indigenous tourism, cultural tourism, and the emergence of Tribal Park Allies, which has been fantastic for businesses to work with the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation on regenerative tourism projects. And the Tribal Parks Allies Scheme is a way for businesses to enter that.

Rodney Payne: What’s your professional background?

Michelle Hall: Where to start and what to include. I came from a world of gaming and tech in Liverpool, England, and definitely decided that encouraging kids to stay home and play computer games indoors was not for me anymore. And so I found my way to New Zealand, WWOOFing, and really was inspired by how tourism intersects with volunteerism and had a blast working on a farm in New Zealand and getting my board and all of these skills while I was enjoying the country.

And so I wrote a business plan to try and do something similar and found my way to Tofino and opened a tourism business, where I host guests from around the world and encourage them to play outside. But the volunteer aspect ended up me working with the Surfrider Foundation, who are an organization whose mission is to protect and enjoy the beaches, waves and ocean.

And I thought that was a perfect fit. Tourism has really afforded me to be able to volunteer. Volunteer is definitely a privilege for those who have time to do that. But yeah, after Surfrider really took ahold of my whole life and took over our house for a while, I was really inspired to go back to school and do my master’s in Sustainable and Environmental Practices and just learn much more about plastic pollution and how advocacy can really make change at policy level. And then from school, I secured a job with the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, and it’s great to be doing work back in the community again. Paid work.

Rodney Payne: That’s a, a really inspiring journey. Can you tell me a little bit about your work with the Surfrider Foundation?

Michelle Hall: Yeah. What started as me thinking this was just going to be a cool hangout with friends on a beach picking up trash ended up as becoming one of the largest chapters in North America and being a, a stakeholder and a voice at the table when it came to advocating for policy on plastic pollution prevention, and it was a really wonderful journey to be on.

I’ve got lots of proud moments to share. The chapter was, Really great at creating a culture when it came to coastline cleanups. So we organized monthly cleanups called Love Your Beach Clean. And what we saw happening over the time that we were doing them, that we were just really creating a cultural shift of, it didn’t always take an organized beach cleanup to keep a beach clean. And we saw businesses taking on days where they would let their employees go and clean a part of the beach. And we would see visitors being inspired by what was happening and, joining in on the beach cleanups. Or you’d see just visitors doing their own solo beach cleans. 

Michelle Hall: And so I really feel proud that when people come to Tofino now they don’t necessarily see any trash or marine debris and I think it’s just created a Great culture of caring about the coastline, whether you’re a visitor, resident, or business. And knowing that we all live by the coast, enjoy the coast, play on it, and we have to stand up for it as well.

Rodney Payne: Why are you so committed to protecting and restoring different ecosystems? 

Michelle Hall: Exactly that reason. I can’t claim to love the ocean, and live by it, and eat from it, and play on it, if I’m not prepared to be part of protecting it and restoring it and yeah, it’s what drives me.

The ocean is definitely my daily meditation. 

Rodney Payne: What brings you the most satisfaction from the work that you do?

Michelle Hall: I love building community, and I love hustling volunteers and hustling my friends to step into leadership roles and be able to share their wonderful skill sets and make change. It’s been wonderful to just be a part of a community that cares. The amount of volunteers that are in this community is incredible.

There’s around 41 non-profits in total in the region, and everybody is at capacity, needs more resources. And what we see is this passionate community of folks who are willing to give their time to a cause that’s important to them. Not just Surfrider, but all of the other wonderful things that are happening.

Rodney Payne: And. What are some of the programs that Surfrider have that visitors or tourists can participate in?

Michelle Hall: Yeah, there’s the Love You Beach Clean. Tourism Tofino actually worked with Surfrider and they do the Washed Up Wednesdays throughout the high summer season, and so tourists can take part in that.

Lots of the businesses now actually have their own kind of collect a bag of debris and get a free coffee kind of system. And you see it happening on Cox Bay and it’s wonderful. Also, as a visitor, you can look into what it means to be an ocean-friendly business and support them. Saffrider run a program called Ocean Friendly Business that supports businesses moving away from single-use plastics, really taking a deep dive into their waste, which is always a great job and helping them come up with new solutions to, yeah, be more sustainable. Avoid single use plastics. 

And also we’ve been really trying to promote the idea of having businesses pay employees to volunteer, so giving an allocated amount of time every month or a year to volunteer within their community because, as I said, volunteering isn’t always accessible to everybody.

So that’s really a great thing for tourists to, to support. Look up if they’re an ocean friendly business. You might see lots of stinky cigarette canisters around town and you can definitely put your butts there instead of on the ground. And Surfrider, I think, the stat is something like 1.4 million ciggy butts have gone through those canisters and now they’re recycled with TerraCycle and if you want to sign up for that volunteer job of counting ciggy butts, then let us know. I’m sure that’s the most rotating job, volunteer job we have in, in the chapter. 

And other things you can do is just adopt that culture of thinking about your impact while you’re here, thinking about the single-use products that you can avoid, and switch to something different.

Sit in a diner, and sit in a restaurant. We all love takeout, but maybe just think about the waste that you are collecting along your travel journey here.

Rodney Payne: What was it like when you first started getting businesses involved in some of these programs? Was it easy? Was it difficult?

Michelle Hall: Yeah, I feel like it was pretty easy. I think that Surfrider had really established themselves as a advocacy group who were about enjoyment as well as making change. And I think that that is a less threatening way for businesses to accept campaigns that are happening. We’ve really tried hard to be inclusive and not to be that threat to businesses.

We want businesses to succeed. And we want everyone to feel good about changes that they’re making. So I think when you make it easy for a business, as well, they’re more readily open to signing up. 

And I think that another shift in the culture here in Tofino has been the drive for sustainability and ensuring that, you know, lots of what we’re seeing now is lots of businesses get these sustainability stamps, and ocean-friendly business may be one of them. And I think that more travelers are seeking that. And so I think that it’s a win for businesses to be able to say that they’re a Surfrider-approved, ocean friendly business. It really looks good for them. And they’re doing the work, and especially more so if they’re involving their employees and giving their employees some paid volunteer time off to give back in the community. It’s a really beautiful symbiotic relationship then.

Rodney Payne: For those businesses who aren’t yet on their journey.

Michelle Hall: We’re coming after you.

Rodney Payne: What do you think holds them back?

Michelle Hall: Maybe capacity. To be honest, we haven’t had real pushback from businesses not wanting to join. The program gets a little bit challenging, because different businesses have different needs. So we have a set of criteria for restaurants that might be different for accommodation, that may be different to a surf shop wanting to be OFB-approved.

So there’s different programs for them to get involved in. Like, For a surf shop, we do wetsuit recycling, which has meant we’ve saved thousands of wetsuits from the landfill. And now they’re made into these cool yoga mats with another for-profit company. So it’s a great example of circular economy.

And I think the more we can share these great examples between businesses of what’s working and what’s cool, then I think that we’ll just get more businesses signing up. But we’re a small town, and I think there’s over 70 businesses now signed up to the OFB program. So it’s pretty successful.

Rodney Payne: Okay, let’s shift gears and talk about the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust. Could you tell me what is CBT’s mission, and how is it connected to the area’s UN designation?

Michelle Hall: Yes, so the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region has a vision, a collective vision, to live sustainably in a healthy ecosystem with diversified economies and strong, vibrant, united cultures. And the CBT’s mission is to provide funding and logistical resources that support that vision and also provide research, education, and training initiatives that promote sustainable development.

And they are the local community foundation as well as steward for the UNESCO designation, which was given in 2000 after the brave leadership of the Nations here within this region who stood up for what we know as War of the Woods, which led to a scientific panel and the support of Indigenous communities, businesses, and government, which then designated this region in 2000.

And a region can only be designated a biosphere region by UNESCO, which stands for United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organization.

Rodney Payne: And what do you think having a designation does for Tofino and the environment?

Michelle Hall: I think it does a lot, because these regions are designated because they’re a site of international excellence and, you know, that is quite clear.

We live in a place with some of the most intact rainforests on the Earth, essential for climate resiliency. There’s abundant biodiversity and rich cultural heritage. And a biosphere region has four essential functions, and that is biodiversity conservation, sustainable development, reconciliation, and capacity building. CBT use that foundation to build on all of the work that we do.

Rodney Payne: And how does the trust support restoration and well being?

Michelle Hall: They provide the funding, the logistical resources, the training, the education, the research. It’s not always so much the boots on the ground, beach cleaning kind of work, but the giving all of this support in the back end of things.

Some examples of restoration projects that they’re supporting right now that come to mind are they have recently provided funding for an Indigenous-led stewardship project in Hesquiat. They’re collaborating with Redd Fish to stabilize landslides, which are impacting numbers of salmon. So that’s really important. 

They’ve also given big research grants out to the wetland association who are creating these wonderful habitats and looking after bogs and marshes where all of those great critters live and interesting plants. And yeah, so the CBTR providing that essential funding and research for those projects to begin.

Rodney Payne: Is there any particular work you’re really proud of? 

Michelle Hall: Um, for me personally,  I am really proud right now of the campaign that I’m working on and that is to build a Biosphere Centre. The Biosphere Centre has been a vision for the CBT since 2008. The vision has changed throughout the years, because it’s involved multiple stakeholders and different people within the community who have been able to give feedback on, what does the Biosphere Centre look like, and what does it need?

And so that requires lots of community input and consultation. We actually have a volunteer advisory committee group who develop the vision for the Biosphere Centre as we go forth. In 2014, the CBT were honored to have permission to continue its operations in Tla-o-qui-aht territory. We’ve also had some members of the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation who’ve come out and blessed the land and set us up for building in a good way to have good things happen in the building. 

And yeah, what will happen in the building? Yeah, we really see this as like a knowledge hub for the region. It’ll be a nexus of science and education and training. It’ll be a culturally safe space built for community, but also built for visitors and travelling researchers and scientists and knowledge holders.

It will have a collaboration and research space, which will be open to NGOs, people who need a desk for the day and use shared resources who want to bounce ideas off other NGOs or organizations that they wouldn’t usually get to be around. This to me sounds fantastic. Just, just there because Surfrider operated from my living room for, for years, and working in silo isn’t always great when you’re an NGO.

So I’m really excited about that. It will also have a research library for students and visitors to come and learn all about the significance of the UNESCO Biosphere Region and all of the incredible research that’s happened here. 

It will also have this space for education and workshops. The CBT coordinates an initiative with the West Coast Nest who are developing the learning economy for educational tourism. So the Biosphere Centre will be a home for workshops and education, and it also helps to diversify the economy by bringing local knowledge holders to share their programs and be remunerated for it, when historically folks may not have been paid fairly for this kind of work and it’s often assumed that people within the Nations or the communities can offer this kind of knowledge, for free or on a voluntary. So we’re really excited to change that shift.

We’ll have a teaching kitchen, which is great for a foodie town because it’s going to help to give more accessibility for folks who want to have food industry certifications and for folks who want to learn how to can foods, or harvest salmon, and process them, and do all those stinky great things that you need a commercial kitchen for. So again, another great economic opportunity for folks to use the Biosphere Centre in maybe off peak times of the year, which will smooth out the curve of tourism and create new employment opportunities for folks who can share that kind of knowledge and just bring more opportunities for people to learn within the community.

I know there’s more things that are exciting about the Biosphere Center. There’s an Elders room which is really cool. This will be a safe space for Elders to be invited to develop their own programming, whether that be language revitalization, storytelling, or just having tea and having vital conversations about what priorities are happening in the Nation.

And then it will be home to also an exhibit area. So this is what’s exciting for tourism, in my opinion, because it’s a new asset for visitors to experience. They can visit the Biosphere Center and visit whatever rotating exhibit is in place there, whether that’s on the Biosphere region and UNESCO, or whether it’s more about truth and reconciliation. And those really sensitive exhibits that sometimes are only up for a short while will be available year round so that visitors can have access to reconciliation and healing that’s happening in this area.

We all want to come to Tofino for adventure and great food, but it’s really a different experience when you can have a learning experience while you’re here. And I think the Biosphere Centre is really gonna be part of that.

Rodney Payne: Can you tell me how your work intersects with Indigenous stewardship of this area? 

Michelle Hall: Yes, well, the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, they have a board of directors which is comprised of a member from every community in the region. So that is Ahousaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, Hesquiaht, Yuu-cluth-aht, and Toquaht, as well as the District of Tofino and District of Ucluelet and Area C.

And what that does for the CBT is, it ensures that we follow the direction of the Nations’ needs. And those needs are brought firsthand to CBT because of the governance and setup of CBT. So it’s wonderful to have that. And we also have many advisory committees with lots of Indigenous members taking part in those committees, including the Biosphere Centre.

We’re lucky to have two Indigenous folks from Tla-o-qui-aht who have helped just continue to guide the vision and we look to the Nations because we can’t do this work alone.

Rodney Payne: Tourism obviously has a lot to gain from a preserved biosphere. How are tourism leaders supporting your work?

Michelle Hall: Being a designated UNESCO Biosphere Region is definitely something fantastic to be able to share and attract people to come and visit the region.

To maintain that designation requires a periodic review every 10 years. The CBT conduct a lot of research and interviews with NGOs and organizations and members of the communities to understand where we’re at when it comes to that criteria. And so, yeah, leaders in this community in tourism have to do the work. We have to continue to think about the integrity of our social and ecological systems and do the work that’s needed to uphold that designation. And then they get to share it on their own websites and their own narratives about that they’re residing in this unique part of the world and how special that is and hopefully attract their guests and customers to visit here and hold the same values.

Rodney Payne: Have you seen an evolution of how visitors treat the environment here?

Michelle Hall: Yeah, I have. It’s been great. I think I touched on it before with beach cleanups. You just see a cultural shift in the way consumers are buying less plastic because, you know, we’re seeing it worldwide, but also Tofino has done a great job of supporting some single use plastic bylaws that have banned some single use plastics.

We have the Ocean Friendly Business scheme, where businesses are moving away from plastics and waste. And we’re seeing that trickle down to what we’re seeing on the coastline because there’s less litter, because there’s less availability of these single-use products to begin with. And also We are inspiring our visitors to take care of the coast, because they’re visiting a community that really cares, and that shows up in the way people are experiencing the beach and treating the beach and ocean and I think that visitors want to fit in. They want to live like a local so they’re more inclined to want to, yeah, take part.

Rodney Payne: Do you think the experience of coming here impacts people?

Michelle Hall: Yeah, I really do. I think that people who visit here are really impacted by seeing how much the community care for the coast and care for the environment, whether that’s when they visit the beach and seeing folks or youth do a beach cleanup just appreciate how clean and litter-free the beaches and oceans are.

And I think that for Surfrider, we’ve experienced folks staying in touch with us and asking how they can bring these kinds of programs and values to their own towns and cities to make change. And it’s, it’s really inspiring to see that visitors can be inspired by our values and take them home with them and make change in their own homes and villages.

Rodney Payne: Clayoquot Biosphere Trust hosts visitors too. You mentioned educational tourism. Can you dive a little deeper?

Michelle Hall: Yes. The West Coast NEST is the educational tourism initiative of CBT. NEST stands for Nature, Education, Sustainability and Transformation. And it’s about developing a learning economy. And they work with I think it’s over 40 businesses and universities and organizations that develop these learning programs and then they connect them with visitors and learners who want to come to the region to learn anything from art to science and culture or a yoga teacher training. 

They’ve just hosted this huge gathering of, it was called the West Coast Art Fiber Retreat. I think there was about 80 knitters and people who can crochet and bead and make macrame. And it was just, it’s just wonderful for people to, yeah, come to this region and then be connected with all of these skill sets of people who can do these things and have a deeper connection to the region. 

Rodney Payne: Do you have any other advice for similar organisations thinking of engaging visitors through education?

Michelle Hall: Yeah, just do it. Make it fun. Include food. Make it simple. Have a really clear outline of what it is you’re offering. And include some really great photographs and some impacts. It’s definitely developing, and you see more people visit this region to, to learn and it’s a, it’s a wonderful opportunity to get more connected to the community and the land and understand more about what’s happening here in the region.

Rodney Payne: Looking 10 years ahead, what progress would you love to see in Tofino?

Michelle Hall: Definitely like to see more of a circular economy here. We’ve seen some really neat initiatives like the one I mentioned with the Ocean Plastics Depot. We’ve also seen surf companies take part in cleanups and take really gross styrofoam that’s been collected and make surfboards from it. So really love to see more circular initiatives that are supported by policy and funding. 

But the, the bigger goal would be for this region to have a regional climate action plan. This year, Canada experienced some extreme wildfires and they happened really close to home. They happened right here in this region, and it shut down the highway for a large amount of time during the high season. It really impacted the economy as well as making people feel unsafe. 

Alongside that, we had a water drought where the district placed some severe water restrictions on the community. Again, it made us feel unsafe, and it put risks on food security. And I think we really need to step up and have this regional climate action plan to change so we can mitigate these climate risks in the future. 

Rodney Payne: What gives you the most hope?

Michelle Hall: It gives me hope to see youth taking initiatives and keeping the coast clean and stepping into leadership roles that are involved with environmental stewardship. And seeing a future for them in their careers in environmental work, and supporting that pathway through making sure there’s equitable pay for youth entering the environmental sector, and not assuming that this work will be done for free, and providing more pathways for youth to work on climate change.

It also gives me hope to be with my friends on a beach, watching a sunset, and being able to swim and play in a clean ocean. 

David Archer: This has been Travel Beyond, presented by Destination Think. And that was Rodney Payne speaking with Michelle Hall from the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust. 

For show notes and more resources, visit the blog at 

This episode was produced and has theme music composed by me, David Archer. My co-host is Tyler Robinson. My co-producer is Sara Raymond de Booy. Lindsay Payne, Annika Rautiola, and Katie Shriner provided production support. 

If you like what you hear, please take a moment to give us a 5-star rating on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. It helps more people find us.

We would like to thank Tourism Tofino for sponsoring this season of Travel Beyond. And from the bottom of our hearts, we want to thank the many local community members, including leaders from the Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nations, for entrusting us with their stories and sharing what it means to steward their lands. And I’ll let Moses Martin carry us out. 

“Anytime that I beat on my own drum, the beat of the drum is the heartbeat of our ancestors and that our teachings go on.”


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