December 16, 2019

TRAVEL CHANGEMAKERS: Mark Hutchinson, Co-founder WildArk

Words by Travel to change the world

Mark Hutchinson, (aka Hutch) is the Co-founder of WildArk and a wilderness explorer and conservationist on a mission to protect the world’s endangered species and fragile ecosystems.

When Mark isn’t in the bush or trekking to the far reaches of the world, he spends time on his surfboard or on outdoor adventures with his wife Sophie and their four children.

Together with his wife Sophie, Mark co-founded WildArk in 2016 with a shared lifelong vision to ensure that they leave the world in a better natural state for their own kids and future generations.

WildArk is a not-for-profit conservation movement made up of organisations including a range of businesses, partnerships and contributors who are all working towards the common goal of making a difference in the world’s wildest places.

Mark’s ecotourism journey began in the early 2000s with a business that took people to remote areas around the world on safari, fly fishing and camping trips. He was fortunate enough to see some of the last untouched wilderness areas, which are now under so much pressure. This business merged into a tourism and hospitality training company which he sold in 2013.

After a tumultuous couple of years working in the corporate world, in which he learnt a great deal, Mark decided to go back to his roots in nature and so WildArk as a conservation movement was born.

Today, he and his wife Sophie focus all of their energy on conservation. They are still very passionate about travelling with their kids and have lived for periods in South Africa, North America, Argentina, France and now Byron Bay.

Mark and Sophie identifying tracks in South Africa

What was it that inspired you to set up WildArk?

After I sold my travel company in 2013 I had a significant life-altering experience that led me to leave the traditional business world and focus all my energy on what I was really passionate about – protecting the remote places on the earth.

Having seen first-hand what was happening to the wildlife, environment and all of our old friends in the ecotourism sector, my wife Sophie and I decided we wanted to do something that would build awareness and raise money for the places that we knew so well.

Alaska, South Africa, Zambia, Northern Australia, Argentina, Montana are some of our favourite places to visit and also some of most impacted, so we set up WildArk in 2015 with a small group of great humans to see how we could help.

Mark exploring NSW North Coast Forests

What concerns you about the long term impact of travel on people, animals and the planet?

Travel is a massive conundrum for everybody. The footprint we all exert on the planet every time we travel is huge.

From carbon pollution to the level of waste and lesser-known evils such as the spread of exotic plants, travel does have a very negative impact. Coupled with the sheer number of humans on the planet and the rise of more and more of us travelling, the equation doesn’t look good.

However, I can’t preach to anyone about this as I have travelled more than most, so I think the challenge is to educate and inspire others to travel in the most ethical, sustainable way we can.

Do you think travel can change the world?

“Change the World” is a huge throwaway phrase most of the time, so I’ll temper this answer by saying that I think the benefits of ethical travel can bring sustainable commerce, awareness and much needed support to areas on the map that would be destroyed if it weren’t for travellers demanding they remain as natural as possible.

Long-term investment in national parks, ecotourism, regenerative and integrated agricultural for example that help build community-based employment and destinations for travellers have a very significant role to play in preserving our natural world.

Are you seeing positive change happening in responsible and sustainable travel?

In some areas yes. My wife and I were recently in Montana, visiting some friends in Yellowstone National Park.

We hiked and fly fished in some of the most pristine wilderness and waterways left on earth, in a country with over 300 million people.

The long-term vision of that area for an integrated community with continued innovation in land management, tourism practices, water and agricultural has worked well over the 20 years I’ve been visiting.

South Africa too, which has been hit with devastating poaching numbers over the last four to five years is now starting to turn good again with massive investment going into extending the open fenced area of Kruger National Park.

We were part of a project there recently and saw first-hand what positive responsible development can do for wildlife and communities based around sustainable wildlife tourism.

Is there a particular moment or milestone in your life, that changed your outlook on things and inspired you to want to make a change?

Probably not a lightning bolt moment, more a long period of pervasive change bought about by countless experiences in the same regions over many years.

Re-visiting an area many times over a period allows you to witness the macro and micro changes and take stock of the impact people have, not just in a natural sense but on communities and culture as well. 

It just made me realise that life could be so much more fulfilling when you not only do what you love but also make a positive impact on other peoples’ lives as well.

I often hear people say things like, “I went back to an epic surf break in Indo after 10-years and there was plastic everywhere and all the kids were asking me for money! Before it was laughing kids spearing fish in the lagoon and pristine beaches.”

The Rufunsa Rhino Conservancy

What advice would you give to people wanting to travel more responsibly?

What’s been really important for us in the last few years is offsetting our carbon at scale by planting trees to cover 20-30 times plus what we use as a family on our trips in carbon.

Some other things we always look at are the credentials of the operations, by taking into considerations such as:

Again, I can’t preach to anyone, as we as a family always need to do more and more each time we plan a trip to make sure it is as responsible as possible.

But bringing your own awareness and taking responsibility for your own choices and actions are a definite and very positive first step.

Find out more:

How can you travel to change the world?

Congratulations! By reading this post and taking some of these insights on board, you’ve already made a difference.

Now you can easily create your own impact by sharing your new-found knowledge. Share this link to a friend who you think would be interested or post it on your own social media.

Ultimately, it all comes down to staying curious, keeping yourself up-to-date and making yourself accountable for your actions on your travels.