Human activities are destroying the natural world, leading to the extinction of animal and plant species at a terrifying rate. Our actions threaten more than 1 million species globally. And New Zealand has the highest proportion of threatened native species in the world, with more than 4,000 at risk.
In 2018, research showed media coverage of climate change was up to eight times higher than that of biodiversity since 2002. One of the biggest problems in communicating the crisis is in the word “biodiversity” itself — because it’s technocratic and alienating.
Together, Stuff visual journalist Iain McGregor and I spent a year creating the seven-part documentary series, This is How It Ends. Designed to draw attention to the crisis, it highlights the diverse nature and life that is under threat in New Zealand and shows evidence of the mass extinction of native species.
We traversed the country looking for several of New Zealand’s most hard-to-find creatures — in some of the most hard-to-access locations — in a bid to tell the stories of these at-risk species before they vanish forever.
We got to tread places most people never go and we’ve seen some of the world’s rarest species. On one expedition we saw 11 Maui dolphins. That’s a bit like seeing 11 unicorns, given that the world’s population now stands at just 54. Another highlight was handling a very rare, fragile bat. They weigh only 10 grams and are just a ball of fur with the most spectacular wings.
Between the two of us, we’ve been peed on by a bat, pooped on by a hihi (stitchbird), spooked by huge hairy endemic spiders, and bitten by New Zealand’s most cheeky bird, the kea!
Leveraging its assets
Stuff owns New Zealand’s No. 1 news site, Stuff.co.nz, along with a suite of magazines, newspapers, and the online community platform Neighbourly. It leverages its trust and scale to deliver quality news, content, and experiences that help make Aotearoa (New Zealand) a better place — so it is perfectly positioned to shine a light on the biodiversity crisis.
We planned the launch of This Is How It Ends to coincide with the biggest biodiversity summit in a decade — the United Nations Cop15 — where leaders were due to negotiate new binding targets to tackle the crisis.
The seven-episode series ran across two weeks, online and in Stuff’s print products, with a new feature story on each day that tied to the video episode launch. We designed bold, eye-catching front pages for each masthead, featuring one of the spectacular images of a species from the series.
Iain’s breathtaking photography was also turned into merchandise, including a free poster inserted into Stuff’s print publications, and a calendar and tote bags, which were sold to raise funds for local conservation projects.
Changing the conversation
The series created wide debate in New Zealand about the level of action being taken to tackle the crisis. Environmental NGOs contributed opinion editorials that stoked the national conversation, particularly around the interview with New Zealand’s conservation minister, and inaction on protecting marine environments.
Our work with native bat species raised the profile of the endangered mammal and helped the creature win Bird of the Year, an annual Forest and Bird election-based competition. On the back of the series, a boutique local chocolate company approached us to feature a bat image on a chocolate bar, with the profits donated to charity.
Stuff is currently in discussions with the New Zealand Department of Conservation to have the series screened in school classrooms.
This Is How It Ends was made with funding from NZ On Air and with help from the Department of Conservation, Heritage Expeditions, Black Cat Cruises, and the International Arctic Centre. Watch the series at www.stuff.co.nz/this-is-how-it-ends.