Crew and A: Russell Markel, PhD

Crew and A: Russell Markel

For our sixth Crew & A, we thought it was finally time to have a chat with Russell. Outer Shores is really his baby. He founded Outer Shores in 2012 and has led the company through five increasingly successful seasons of coastal adventure, during which he’s also worn several hats. Russell is not only the founder and president of Outer Shores, but you also have a good chance of finding “Dr/Captain” Russ at the helm of Passing Cloud and taking on the role of expedition specialist.

How did you become connected to the BC Coast?

I was fortunate to grow up exploring and learning about our coast. My grandfather was a commercial salmon fisherman, and so we spent a lot of time on the water, near where my mother grew up in Pender Harbour, fishing, camping, swimming, and snorkeling. Also, my father was a SCUBA diver, and so from a very young age, I was intrigued by the undersea world. These early experiences were extremely formative for me.

Can you tell us a bit out your academic background?

I don’t think it was a surprise to anyone when I decided that I wanted to be a marine biologist. I started with an undergraduate degree focusing on marine biology and ecology, and then I did a Masters degree in benthic marine ecology, in the Botany Department at UBC. Most people don’t know that I trained as a Phycologist, or some someone who studies seaweeds. I later went on to do my PhD in the Zoology Department at UBC, where I studied ecological connections between sea otters, kelp forests, and rockfish population dynamics. My postdoctoral fellowship in the UBC Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability involved taking an inter-disciplinary approach to understanding the effects of sea otter recovery on ecosystems and coastal communities.

What inspired you to start an ecotourism business?

At the same as I was studying and working as a biologist, I was also a sailor and eventually became involved with ecotourism, skippering expedition sailing vessels in Haida Gwaii and throughout the BC coast. During my postdoc, in particular, I really came to appreciate the relationships between conservation and human relationships and values around nature and the environment, and the fact that our values are strongly driven by our personal experiences and connections. It became clear to me that one of the best ways I could contribute to the conservation of our coast was by taking people out to experience first-hand and learn about the wildlife and cultures of this special place.

How did you find your beloved Passing Cloud?

I first met her back in 1999. Her former owner got in touch with me when he was looking for a marine biologist to help develop a high school marine education program. He took me down to see his boat and that was the first time I stepped aboard Passing Cloud.  My eyes just about popped out of my head! She just struck me as an unbelievably beautiful boat that had enormous potential.

You’re a busy guy. What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?

Definitely the logistics. The months of work that goes into coordinating things like permitting, legal and financial, vessel maintenance, and crew training, not to mention marketing and guest services. It all culminates in that moment when everyone steps on board to begin the expedition. After that, all the hard work is done and everyone has an amazing adventure.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

Working with all our amazing crew, I couldn’t do any of this without them, and getting to share our coast with guests from all over the world. At the end of every expedition, we take time to share some thoughts and reflect on where we’ve been and what we’ve seen. We talk about the messages that our guests are taking home with them. Inevitably, it’s a very personal experience and they’ve gained deep insights into the ecology, cultures, and conservation concerns of our coast.

What didn’t you expect when you started this business?

I really didn’t envision getting to work with world-class chefs and helping to develop menus and a culinary program that we’re really proud of.  I always knew the food was important but this has been such a wonderful surprise.

What do you like to do when you aren’t at sea?

Right now, I love spending lots of time with our young son, Dylan. He loves being outside. The only time he gets upset is when we have to bring him inside. At the end of this season, we were excited to finally take him out on Passing Cloud. It was the first trip to sea for our young sailor and I’m excited to launch his lifetime of growing up on our coast.


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