An iconic Spirit Bear cub is captured in an anthropomorphic gesture by Great Bear Wild author and photographer Ian McAllister and included in the new book.

Voice (and eye) of the Great Bear Rainforest to speak in Campbell River

Ian McAllister will be in Campbell River Nov. 19 to talk about the book and the effort to protect the central and northern coast

If the direction of development on the B.C. central and north coast is going to be turned around, it’s going to be done by people of all sectors in society coming together.

“That’s where hope lies,” said environmental activist and photographer Ian McAllister.

And McAllister feels confident that people will come together to protect what is becoming known as the Great Bear Rainforest which encompasses the coast of B.C. from the tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaska boundary.

“We’ve seen it time and time again,” McAllister said. “We’ve seen coastal people stand up from all walks of life.”

That anybody is even aware of the threat to the Great Bear Rainforest is due in no small part to McAllister who has been writing about and photographing the central and northern coast of B.C. for decades.

The culmination of that work has resulted in the publication of a new hardcover book called Great Bear Wild; Dispatches from a Northern Rainforest.

McAllister will be in Campbell River Nov. 19 to talk about the book and the effort to protect the central and northern coast from oil and LNG tanker traffic.

The large hardcover book – filled with beautiful photographs taken from the region – takes the reader “on a deeply personal journey from the headwaters of the region’s unexplored river valleys down to the hidden depths of the offshore world.”

McAllister talks about the interconnectedness of the undersea habitat of the B.C. coast and the adjacent rainforest. A symbol of the region is the iconic Kermode bear or Spirit Bear, as it has become popularly known because of its white coat.

The bear is a white phase of the common black bear but one which engenders a strong emotional response in modern coastal residents as well as those who lived in traditional First Nations cultures.

Adding weight – literally – to the title of Great Bear Rainforest is the other ursine resident, the powerful grizzly bear which is also abundant on this coast.

The region is rich in biodiversity which is, in fact, increasing in recent years.

Species once abundant prior to European settlement but which were hunted and fished, sometimes to near-extinction, are now rebounding.

McAllister’s explanation for that rebound might seem surprising and it also explains the motivation to fight the increase in shipping on the coast in order to service the resource extraction industry.

The focus of legislative approval and regulation of tanker traffic on the B.C. coast is on oil spills. Most of the discussion is on mitigating and responding to oil spills on the coast but that’s not the biggest problem, according to McAllister.

“There’s virtually no discussion or debate about the acoustic pollution these ships would cause,” he said.

We’re seeing a great resurgence of life in the region with many species of whales rebounding in numbers as well as porpoises and many other aquatic species.

What’s causing that?

“That’s the million dollar question and I think it’s on the minds of people who are witnessing this (rebound) firsthand,” McAllister said.

A combination of factors are maintaining ocean productivity in the region – the supply of food for these larger aquatic species like fish, whales and seals and sea lions. But it’s more than just the food supply that is bringing larger species back, McAllister said.

“The central and northern coast is relatively free of shipping traffic,” he said. “We have been witnessing an exponential increase in shipping traffic throughout the world.”

That increase in traffic is displacing aquatic species who are very sensitive to the noise pollution shipping causes.

“Acoustic pollution or masking from shipping traffic is causing significant concern for whale researchers throughout the world’s oceans,” McAllister writes in Great Bear Wild. “At the same time that we are beginning to understand the importance of the acoustic environment for cetaceans, we are witnessing a doubling of the world’s shipping fleets – and the underwater noise that they produce – every decade.”

And those species may be seeking sanctuary in one area in the world where acoustic pollution is relatively non-existent – the central and northern coast of B.C.

“They very much might be using the B.C. coast as an acoustic refuge,” McAllister said.

But that refuge may soon be under siege.

“We are witnessing probably the single largest increase in shipping traffic in anywhere in the world,” McAllister said.

If you put all of the proposals to ship energy from the B.C. coast on the table, you would be looking at 3,000 tanker trips a year, he said. Not all of the proposals would go through but any of them would increase shipping traffic.

An oil spill is in many ways, a hypothetical threat. A devastating spill could happen but it might not.

But the one thing that is certain, McAllister said, is that increased tanker traffic will increase noise pollution.

Getting the word out about the threat that noise pollution poses is only just gaining steam. It’s not the same kind of call to action that oil spills can generate. People can envision the devastation an oil spill can cause but acoustic pollution could prove to be hard to get people to take seriously, McAllister acknowledges.

“The challenge is to educate people about that and inspire them to want do something about it,” he said.

Acoustic pollution is an issue that the shipping industry worldwide is aware of, he said.

“But here on the coast of B.C., we just haven’t seen shipping traffic to the extent that it is seen elsewhere,” he said.

There is some discussion in the southern coast of B.C. about acoustic pollution because of the effect the whale watching industry has on killer whale populations.

Campbell Riverites can learn more about the beautiful Great Bear Rainforest and the threat posed by increased shipping at 7:30 p.m. at the Tidemark Theatre Nov. 19.

McAllister will share his work in a multimedia exploration of the Great Bear Rainforest, including a Q&A and book signing following the presentation.


  • Ian McAllister is a co-founder of the wildlife conservation organization Pacific Wild. He is an award-winning photographer and author of The Last Wild Wolves and The Great Bear Rainforest, and his images have appeared in publications around the world. He has been honoured by the Globe & Mail as one of 133 highly accomplished Canadians, and he and his wife, Karen McAllister, were named by Time magazine one of the Leaders of the 21st Century for their efforts to protect British Columbia’s endangered rainforest. He is a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers and has won the North America Nature Photography Association’s Vision Award. He lives with his family on an island in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest.