What you need to know
People are killing off vast numbers of species all around the world; but no one is talking about it. Maybe a new Instagram feed devoted to the topic will help.
Everyone knows the Dodo is extinct. But how many of us know that we are currently undergoing a sixth mass extinction event? To raise awareness about this under-reported story, Brit photographer-filmmaker Sean Gallagher founded Everyday Extinction, a specialized Instagram feed on Oct 1.
With his National Geographic credentials, Gallagher, who has been based in Beijing for the past decade or so covering environmental crises through his lens, gathered a pool of a few dozen professional photographers and wildlife scientists as contributors, allowing the feed to be updated at least once or twice a day. By the time of going to press, Everyday Extinction had 69 posts. A quick scan of the offerings shows moving and awe-inspiring shots, including one of a mountain gorilla and his “adopted” human embracing in a sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and an eerie black and white portrait of a bull elephant in Nepalʼs Chitwan National Park, his legs chained cruelly together.
As an island nation, Taiwan is particularly vulnerable to species extinction. In 2013, scientists declared the Formosan clouded leopard extinct. Green Bulletin grabbed Gallagher just before he flew off for another shoot — this time to Malaysia — to discover how he hopes to use Instagram, an app known more for its narcissistic selfies and food boast pics, to change the world, as well as how you can lend a hand.
Green Bulletin: Why were you inspired to launch Everyday Extinction?
Sean Gallagher: My work focuses on highlighting environmental issues across Asia and as part of this coverage I have worked on numerous stories about conservation and species extinction. I was reading a book called “The Sixth Extinction” by Elizabeth Kolbert which highlights the fact that we are experiencing a sixth extinction of global biodiversity. The book clearly highlighted that this was a global phenomenon reaching all corners of the earth and the main driver of this extinction is man. The severity of the outlined crisis and my realization that this was a vastly underreported global issue inspired me to begin the Everyday Extinction feed.
What are the key goals of the feed?
SG: The goal of the feed is to use photography to highlight the causes, effects and solutions to species extinction in order to help people understand the severity of the crisis and the main issues that surround it. Currently this issue is not widely covered in the mainstream media and we hope the feed can instigate conversations and potentially inspire people to either learn more, or even take action on issues raised in the images.
What power do you think photographs have in this context?
SG: I believe photographs are arguably the most powerful way to communicate the severity of this crisis. Images have an ability to depict suffering, elicit empathy, inspire action and communicate hope. Many of the images on the feed do many of these in one image! We are trying to harness the power of photography and the current popularity it has at the moment through social media to reach new audiences that are not aware of the biodiversity extinction crisis.
Is there a way you will measure if Everyday Extinction is having an effect?
SG: This is a question I receive a lot with my own work covering environmental issues. How do you measure effect? Is it by reaching a certain number of people with the images? By changing a certain number of minds? Or is inspiring just a handful of people into serious action enough? Itʼs a very difficult to quantify “effect”. Our aim is to grow our audience as much as possible. I have already seen an effect when presenting our feed to young learners in schools, who are fascinated by the issues we are covering. You can see in their faces they have been inspired. For me this is real “effect”. I hope we can do more of this.
You have described that the images will focus on one of three aspects to this mass loss of biodiversity – causes, effects and solutions. Why are all three important for this project?
SG: Itʼs very important that people understand all the issues related to this crisis so that they can see how we have gotten ourselves into this situation, but also how we can get out of it. Self-reflecting on the fact that human activity has caused this current extinction event will hopefully make people think about how altering our behavior can protect species and their habitats in the future, for example. Highlighting what is being done to protect species is also important as it gives people hope and inspiration through people around the world who are already dedicating their lives to protecting species.
Some of the images are truly breath-taking. Can you tell me which one is your favorite and why?
SG: One of my favorite images is by biologist Andrea Marshall, who photographed a dolphin that had drowned in a fishing net. When I first saw this image, I thought the dolphin was just trapped but then I read the caption to learn it had drowned. I was stunned. By-catch from fishing nets is a very serious issue across the world with many species being needlessly killed as a result of commercial fishing. This can even happen to animals as large as whales! Our daily consumption of seafood is causing more and more of these types of situations.
The feed is in English, and of course, Instagram is blocked in China. In order to widen your reach is there any plan to either translate into other languages or post on a China-available photo feed too?
SG:At the moment, we are just focusing on the English language feed through Instagram but we would definitely be open to the idea of setting up a Chinese version in the future if the opportunity arose.
What are you plans for Everyday Extinction? Will it continue indefinitely? Will you make it into a book?
SG:As we have just launched, our main aim now is to grow our initial audience. We are working with editorial publications on features and are in discussions with numerous outlets to do Instagram takeovers with likeminded feeds. We have already been approached about exhibitions too, so this is something we will definitely be exploring in 2018. A book would be a wonderful way to highlight this issue and it would be something we would be interested in if the opportunity arose.
I donʼt think thereʼs a Taiwan contribution yet; would you like to use this interview to put a call out for submissions? If so, how can people contact you, and do you have any particular Taiwan-specific extinction image idea?
SG:At the moment we have approximately 30 contributors from across the world who are mainly photographers and/or scientists. We hope to cover as many regions of the world as possible and cover all types of species, both plant and animals. If someone is interested in contributing, they can reach me through our page on Instagram or through Facebook. Weʼre looking for professionals who are dedicated to this issue in their particular field. If however you have one great image, you can tag it with #everydayextinction on Instagram which I regularly review. If you have an image I think will work for the feed, Iʼll get in touch!
If our readers want to get involved in helping to stop mass extinction, what can they do?
SG: Every decision we make in our daily lives affects our local and global environment in some way. Even though most of us live in urban areas, we are still connected to global biodiversity through our daily consumption of products. Is the table in your living room made of wood from sustainably planted forests? Is the seafood you are eating caught in a way that prevents by-catch? Do you have an exotic pet taken from a threatened ecosystem? Are you eating a product made with palm oil which has been grown in an area that has had its forests cleared for its production? There are many more questions you can ask yourself. As consumers, we have the power to spend our money on things that reduce harm to the environment and to biodiversity. Itʼs our responsibility to become aware of these issues and make changes to our consumption accordingly.