2017 Explanatory Reporting, Large Newsroom finalist


The scope and causes of the next mass extinction crisis

Ingrid Formanek, Jackson Loo, John Sutter, David McKenzie, Nick Paton Walsh

CNN Digital

Explanatory Reporting, Large Newsroom


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About the Project

For the first time in human history, the world is facing a mass extinction crisis.

Three quarters of all species could disappear, as CNN’s John Sutter wrote in kicking off the network’s enterprising look at the scope and causes of the “Vanishing.”

African elephants could be extinct within 20 years. Orangutans are already on the brink of extinction. From monarch butterflies to honeybees to the fish that sustain human life in many parts of the world, the threat is omnipresent, CNN’s reporters found.

To tell the urgent story, CNN sent a team around the globe — to Costa Rica, Madagascar, Midway Atoll, Botswana, British Columbia, California and Oregon. Reporters interviewed the researchers and everyday people trying to save key species from the brink.

The result was a compelling report – a mobile-oriented interactive on CNN Digital, original online videos, a 30-minute television documentary on CNN International and a documentary on CNN en Español.

Nick Paton Walsh traveled to Midway atoll, where he found disturbing evidence of plastic’s impact on the albatross population. More than five trillion pieces of plastic are already in the oceans, and by 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea than fish, by weight, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

David McKenzie and Ingrid Formanek journeyed to Botswana to document the devastating toll that poaching is taking on the elephant population.

Sutter traveled to the mountains of southern Oregon to spend time with an 83-year-old retired entomologist who was the last person to see Franklin’s Bumblebee alive — in 2006. He won’t give up the search, which sounds the alarm about the die-off of bees, which are indispensable for pollination.

But perhaps the most powerful part of Sutter’s work was his trip to an island off southwest Madagascar where the bleaching of the coral reef is causing havoc in the lives of the Vezo people. “Vezo” stands for “at struggle with the sea.” At birth, their umbilical cords are placed in seashells and tossed as an offering into deep blue waters.

“If you don’t know the reef — can’t feel its tides and sense its moods — then you can’t survive,” he wrote.

Yet the dying reef can no longer yield enough fish to feed the Vezo people, as the husband-wife couple Hary and Lydia told Sutter. Their children cry from hunger. “If we don’t find anything out there,” she said, “my children can’t eat.”

CNN’s “Vanishing” series uniquely shows the global scope of this crisis and offered readers a clear explanation of what’s going wrong.

The pieces received more than 4 million page views and the interactive itself attracted more than a million readers. The videos were re-cut and subtitled for Facebook, where they also reached a big audience.

“Thank you so much for your excellent, clear, and gripping reporting on the extinction crisis,” wrote a reader in Sweden.