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Exploring the Channel Islands with Kayak Guide Aubrie Fowler

To say Aubrie Fowler wears many hats might be a slight understatement. She’s been leading kayak and snorkel tours for Santa Barbara Adventure Company (SBACo) at Scorpion Anchorage on the Southeast fringe of Santa Cruz Island at Channel Islands National Park since the spring of 2018.

She’s also on the ground (and in the water) working hard to protect our local Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) with partners throughout California. I recently caught up to Aubrie mid-winter. With spring quickly approaching, she’s gearing up for another season of guiding at Santa Cruz Island. Read on. There’s much to learn from this young lady who hails from San Diego.

Photo by Chuck Graham

Interview with Aubrie Fowler

SBACo: Can you tell us a bit about your background? 

Aubrie: I have a bachelor’s and master’s degree in biological sciences with a concentration in Marine Biology and Fisheries from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. I now have my Rescue Diver certification which is really exciting! My current full-time job, in addition to kayak guiding, is as the South Coast Specialist at the Marine Protected Area (MPA) Collaborative Network. Our mission is to empower diverse communities to engage in MPA stewardship for a healthy ocean. We connect partners across California and beyond to improve the management of the network of 124 MPAs, which includes the nearly 20 MPAs surrounding the Channel Islands (e.g., Scorpion State/Federal Marine Reserve).

SBACo: At what point in your life did you develop a profound interest in marine biology and outdoor exploration? Can you share a pivotal experience or influential individual who has contributed to nurturing this enduring passion?

Aubrie: I grew up playing in the waves at the coast, watching nature documentaries, and going camping often with my family. I later thought I wanted to photograph and film the Big 5 on the Serengeti but realized I wasn’t patient enough (or arid-tolerant enough) for that! I’m a fish at heart so need to be by and in the ocean. I grew up swimming competitively and fell in love with the underwater world. These events, interests, and values coalesced to shape me and my career. 

I have been inspired by many including Dr. Jane Goodall and Dr. Sylvia Earle. Their work as female scientists and conservationists and paving the path for a life devoted to the natural world has opened up my world in ways they’ll likely never know.

SBACo: How long have you been a guide? 

Aubrie: Since March 2018.

SBACo: How did you get to become a Channel Islands kayak guide? 

Aubrie: After going on an Aquasports Ultimate Tour with my family led by former guide Tony Chapman, I fell in love with the Channel Islands. I later met Mike Cohen through the NOAA Channel Islands Sanctuary Advisory Council while I was a Sea Grant Fellow and made it a priority to apply to be an island kayak guide. The rest is history!

Photo by Chuck Graham

SBACo: How long have you been kayaking? 

Aubrie: As a guide, about five years, but I’ve kayaked (and canoed) since I was a young kid.

SBACo: When you’re leading a kayak tour, what do you hope guests will come away with after experiencing one of your trips? 

Aubrie: I hope they get out of it what they hope and expect to (and then some!). Anything additional that I can facilitate like an enhanced connection to nature, a greater understanding of Channel Islands’ specific conservation success stories in the face of human impacts on wildlife and the environment, a few kayaking skills, improved ocean confidence in/on the ocean, a sense of awe in the sea caves or underwater (if on a snorkel tour), and a greater love for the blue planet are all wins in my book.

SBACo: What is your favorite tour to lead at Santa Cruz Island?

Aubrie: Adventure tours at the islands. I recommend this for people who have a bit of paddling experience since it’s extra fun to send it in our amazing sea caves!! I also think this length of the tour allows me (and likely other guides) to connect better with clients since there’s sufficient time for this experience.

SBACo: Can you tell us about your best/favorite wildlife encounter in the water, whether it was from the kayak or beneath the surface? 

Aubrie: I’d have to say that while I led a snorkel tour last summer, having two playful harbor seal pups follow us the whole time was an incredible experience! Always make sure to keep a respectful distance from these wild animals, that way we can continue to enjoy their presence and not stress them out.

SBACo: What are some of your other passions when not guiding at the islands? 

Aubrie: Traveling, crushing sprint triathlons, diving, strength training, hiking, listening to live music, beach walks with good friends, and visits to the local Farmer’s Market.

SBACo: What is your favorite place you have traveled to and why? 

Aubrie: Oof, a very tough question. Traveling solo internationally for the first time when I was 25 to the land of Pura Vida was life-changing. I loved it so much, I went back a few months later (and was reminded how small the world is when I had the same cab driver from the airport!). The kind people, culture, gorgeous expansive beaches, warm waves, diverse rainforest, and the most incredible nocturnal bug tour just scratch the surface of my love for Costa Rica. SCUBA diving in 80+ degree water at depth and hanging out with some adorable sloths didn’t hurt either!

Blog contributed by:
Chuck Graham

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