Wild Lab Projects’ life began in the nest of Wandering Owl, a tour operator specialized in northern lights and outdoor activities. In summer 2020, “the owls” were taking some time to reflect on the previous high season. Everyone was feeling disheartened by the environmental and social impacts of tourism in the region, after a decade of exponential growth.
A few months earlier, with the closure of borders, the flow of visitors had run dry. Tromsø too had been silenced. The owls decided to use this time-of-quiet to reshape their business model, with the ambition of being less extractive and MORE REGENERATIVE. Instead of exploiting natural resources, could tourism be the resource itself, and nature the beneficiary? Instead of being consumers of commercial products, could travelers engage in projects that generate positive and measurable outcomes for wildlife, natural habitats and local communities? An idea was drafted in a grant application to Innovation Norway, which eventually gave Wandering Owl some funding and 10 months to come up with a concrete project.
A scientist, experienced in nature conservation, joined the team to develop the project, with citizen science as the keystone of a bridge to come.
This bridge was to connect travelers with nature conservation, science with the rest of society. The first months were spent meeting with scientists to ask them a simple question: can citizen science be a useful tool for your research? The response was often positive, and the first collaborations took shape. Early 2022, the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA) became our first research partner with our kelp forest restoration project, supported by the Research Council of Norway. Since, other partners have co-designed citizen science projects with us and we are receiving more and more support and recognition for what we want to achieve.
Before the end of the 10-month gestation period, what we had conceived had its own values, goals and mission. It had to be noncommercial and philanthropist. In January 2023, Wandering Owl gave birth to an independent body – a nonprofit – that has no equivalent in Norway: Wild Lab Projects. We want “Wild Lab” to be a tool for science and nature conservation, and a chance for travelers to make their visit MEANINGFUL. But also for locals, students and pupils, as change will also come from us who live here, who witness the harm done to nature and want to do something about it.
From awareness to change
Our projects aim to heal nature and encourage more respectful ways to live with it. We find inspiration in the concept of regenerative traveling, where visitors use their material and personal resources (time, finances, energy, muscles, brain and empathy) to engage in projects that are meaningful to them, and that produce concrete and measurable outcomes. Citizen science plays an important role in these projects and makes it possible for anyone to participate without particular expertise (we’ll be here to train you and lead you through the methods).
This being said, raising awareness is easy, but awareness alone is not a factor of change. As importantly, we must care. With our projects, by taking action, we nourish and amplify this sense of caring, and MAKE CHANGE HAPPEN with our own hands.
As individuals, we all feel – and in fact, we are – powerless in the face of the dramatic changes that affect our planet. We cannot reverse climate change, stop the loss of biodiversity, or make the planet’s oceans less acidic. Yet, we all witness the degradations of the natural world and their consequences on most living organisms, including humans, and many of us find it infuriating. We also have very little hope that change will come from our leaders. But as powerless as we might feel, inaction is not an option for us. We reject this prediction of a ruined planet to come. We don’t pretend we will change the trend or save the world with our projects. But because we value the diversity of life on Earth, because WE CARE about it deeply, we join forces with other idealistic and visionary people, dreamers and doers, we roll up our sleeves and together we do our share, with scientific method, love and determination.