WWF's Conservation Innovation Awards

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Guardians of Zealandia

New Zealand’s natural environment is at the heart of our sense of identity as a nation, it shapes our economy, our lifestyles and our culture.

“Guardians of Zealandia” will celebrate New Zealand’s unique biodiversity and endemic species. Our project aims to engage young minds in science and explorations that will enhance their understanding about the importance of biodiversity as a living treasure and encourage sustainable actions for future generations.

With more than 1000 threatened animal, plant and fungi species in New Zealand today, protection and conservation is without a doubt a very complex task. To effectively engage young people and their families in a dialogue about the importance of biodiversity, we will develop a series of interactives components using immersive and virtual reality platforms, and hands on science demonstrations.

As a result of this engagement experience we hope to empower young kiwis and their families to apply this knowledge and understanding to mitigate the impacts we are having on our environment and create a path for a sustainable future.

What conservation problem are you trying to solve?

It’s important that everyone can experience and appreciate our wonderful flora and fauna first hand so they can value it and look to protect it, however, such tourism pressures in key ecosystem areas can disrupt and damage conservation efforts. Having one of the highest percentages of threatened species in the world, we hope that through this project we will: • Communicate the iconic status of what we have…and what we have to lose; • Provide youth and families with S&T understanding and tools to become stewards of our ecosystems; • Inspire changes in the day-to-day practices that will determine our record in biodiversity management, nurturing young people and their families to become true Guardians of Zealandia.

How are you going to solve this conservation problem?

Guardians of Zealandia will tap into New Zealanders passion and pride for their unique environment and biodiversity through the power of full dome and digital immersive platforms creating a 'hook' that engages wide audiences across different ages regardless of their backgrounds and without impacting on the environments themselves. Interactive models, hands on science demonstrations will complement the programme creating a long-lasting memorable educational experience. By creating a series of online 360 full immersive virtual reality video experiences and assembling associated teaching resources for the communities, especially schools we hope to inspire and engage with hard-to reach conservation projects in areas that are difficult to get to, or would suffer from human visitors.

What makes your idea new and unique?

By offering 360 immersive virtual experiences with conservation champions of hard to reach areas, we can inspire and inform people about the wonderful and desperately needed work going into these areas by making them feel like they’re actually there, without damaging ecosystems and conservation efforts. Using latest 360 technology with clear, simple instructions on low-cost use with a phone and google cardboard, we can bring people into areas like White Island, Fox Glacier and the Chathams to experience the wonder and awe of these hidden gems of conservation work.

Who will use your idea, and how will they benefit?

Guardians of Zealandia will engage with diverse audiences and promote community participation and involvement. A key component of the project will be the inspiring demonstrations and technology, interactive models, and hands-on experimentation that we will make the engagement experience fully participatory, fun and hence a memorable educational experience. This project will be presented to the public via youtube 360 and to schools through the Otago Museum’s wide-reaching Science Outreach programmes – with equipment to allow school children around the country to learn about these places. A curriculum-linked programme will be offered as well as a resource library which schools can borrow and includes equipment and instructions required to bring conservation into the classroom.

What tasks or activities do you need investment for? How would you spend a $25,000 grant?

Investment will allow us to connect with conservation champions and fund filming and production of videos in these areas. A portion of the funds will also go towards creating school resources and instructions for use online for the general public in their homes. We are aiming for this investment to open opportunities for further development pathways and encourage conservation groups to consider immersive media for their outreach goals - possibly setting up 360 degree immersive livestreams in hotspots for wildlife activity like the Albatross colony on the Otago Peninsula during nesting season.

Are you a New Zealand citizen or resident?


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List five other ideas posted in the challenge that excite you. Why?

- The Baleen Filter – Preventing Plastic Microfibres from entering our oceans

This project can help raise awareness on how our lifestyle and day to day living impacts the environment and it has a proposal on a practical way to use tech (via App) and introduce a simple filter in our washing machines to take the first steps to concrete actions.

- Ur-bins

Practical way to contribute to pest control in our own backyards

- Investigating the weird, wonderful and sometimes freaky biodiversity of the Waikato: Engaging community, iwi and schools in biodiversity science.

Cross collaboration opportunities with our own project

- Thermal Imaging to unmask what is in my backyard

Another initiative to tackles pest control in NZ and protect our endemic species


Water is one of our most valuable natural resources, if not the most valuable of all. Hence monitoring water quality is a task we need to embrace and take necessary actions to prevent the spread of diseases and the impact in the environment.

How could you improve your idea?

Having the opportunity to share our project idea via this platform have proven to be an incredible resource to exchange possible approaches to our overall project.

In addition networking opportunities have arose, which will help to extend the current reach of our project and as we have been in touch with Conservation Innovation Ambassadors we hope we can bring then as collaborator/advisors on the scientific and technical content of the immersive media, interactives and hands-on demonstrations being developed and assure the scientific accuracy and rigour needed for the success of the project.



edited on Oct 10, 2017 by Nathalie Wierdak

Nigel Binks Oct 5, 2017

Our biodiversity bioblitz proposal also features a 360 degree immersive platform for public engagement. There seems to be a strong similarity between our ideas with regards as to how to engage and communicate science to the community.


Nathalie Wierdak Oct 5, 2017

Hi Nigel,
This sounds really cool. The use of immersive digital technology it’s definitely a non-invasive way to help raise awareness about our biodiversity.

As part of our science outreach programme in the South Island last year we team up with Otago University and Lab in a Box and delivered some cool sessions at Papakaio School looking into pond water samples and classifying tiny invertebrates.



Jennifer Mcguire Oct 9, 2017

Maybe a great chance for you guys to collaborate?


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Leigh Nicholson Oct 6, 2017

Having just been to Zealandia - I was blown away by the beauty - it is a NATIONAL TREASURE :)


Fiona Edwards Oct 8, 2017

Kia ora, can you please clarify what the innovation is, as the 360 degree technology already exists? Also clarify how this information technology will be a 'game-changer' in solving the conservation problem you have identified.


Nathalie Wierdak Oct 8, 2017

Kia ora,
Thanks for getting in touch.

With “Guardians of Zealandia” we intend to use the current technological platforms available to develop an immersive digital experience that highlights New Zealand’s unique biodiversity.

Our approach towards conservation will provide open access to this educational resources. Engaging non-traditional audiences with science is challenging, in order to do so access needs to be easy. While a school trip to a University three hours’ drive away can be exiting, it is also fraught with challenges – expenses, logistics, time out of school, etc. By taking the science to the community everyone can access the resources, not just a selected few.

“Guardians of Zealandia” will engage with diverse audiences and promote rural community participation and involvement with science. These communities and the youth within them do not have the same access to science organization as their urban counterparts as most Universities and Crown Research Institutes are based in cities. By taking “Guardians of Zealandia” directly to the communities they will have the opportunity to engage with science that is important to them and effect change.

Our approach to engaging the community will play a key role in the success of the project, and will be the game changing aspect of it.

Happy to discuss further, would love to hear about your area of expertise and if you have any further suggestions on how we can improve this idea.



Fiona Edwards Oct 9, 2017

Kia ora Nat
I love the concept of this project. From reading your response to Megan, I see you have delivered conservation science/ education to 10,000 people in the past year. How many of these have gone on to engage in environmentally aware behaviours and actions? Do you have examples that you could share in your application?
Megan and I are both Conservation Innovation Ambassadors - our profiles are on this site :)
Our role is to help applicants clarify the conservation problem they are trying to solve, identify the benefits and conservation outcomes of the proposed project and to help applicant's identify the conservation 'game-changing' aspect of their proposal.
Good luck


Nathalie Wierdak Oct 9, 2017

Hi Fiona,


To give you a recent example, our team just returned from Christchurch from the Antarctic Season Opening Festival with our latest showcase Far from Frozen.

Far from Frozen explores Antarctica and the potential impact of climate change using the latest in virtual and augmented reality, holographic computing and projection mapping technology, the idea is that via this series of interactives we offer Kiwis the opportunity to access a genuine knowledge base from which they can make sense of often conflicting messages about climate change and the associated science. It is critical that this generation of New Zealanders can make informed decisions about how to respond to and mitigate climate change; both as members of the public and as active researchers. With the latest research indicating the planet is already committed to warming and climate change in the coming century from current and previous emissions, it is this emerging generation who will increasingly face the impact of current and past generations’ activities.

As we have piloted the project this year across New Zealand, to demonstrate the importance of Antarctica in driving Earth’s systems and their resultant impact on New Zealand's climate and sea-level. We have become aware of the significant impact this kind of programme offers in term of getting people engage and motivating actions and changes in our day to day practices. As a result we want to use a similar structure for “Guardians of Zealandia”.

We conduct pre and post surveys with each of our visits, and the feedback has been very positive, there is a great demand for this kind of programmes to a point that we wanted to take the next steps and focus on our endangered species.

With Guardians of Zealandia we wish to use a similar structure for engaging people, since this method has proven very effective across all ages and backgrounds.

Although our surveys and feedback has been great, one of the main issues we face when we tackle educations is how to measure long term impact of our programmes, I think the key element here is the way in which we are presenting the experience to make it memorable in a way that it uplift our inner love for the environment.

Thanks for getting in touch, and for following on our proposal, there is always room for improvement!



Fiona Edwards Oct 9, 2017

Thanks Nat for your awesome response. Good luck with your proposal.


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Megan Somerville Oct 8, 2017

Hi. Thanks for putting this forward.
Conservation psychology suggests that biodiversity extinction messages can generate apathy not action. Can you please talk a bit more about how your programme will jump the gap from one-off learning about conservation experiences, to seeing sustained environmentally aware behaviours and actions?

I really liked that you have identified engaging with diverse audiences and promoting community participation and involvement as important. How were you looking to engage with diverse audiences that are different than the groups that you and other environmental groups have tapped into before?

Sorry, and one more question about the name of your project. Who are the guardians? It is also possible that people will link this with the Zealandia sanctuary in Wellington which may cause confusion.

nga mihi.


Nathalie Wierdak Oct 8, 2017

Hi Megan,

Thank you so much for getting in touch.

You are absolutely right! At this stage we would first need to develop the content of the educational resource (working alongside conservation champions and using 360 digital immersive platform), and that is what we intend to use the award for. A key component of the full project will be the inspiring demonstrations and technology, interactive models, and hands-on experimentation that we will make the engagement experience fully participatory, fun and hence a memorable educational experience.
Using DIY kits that utilise inexpensive and simple to replenish equipment we will also equip schools, children and their families with the ability to safeguard and actively care from their environment and the biodiversity within.

We also want to include a “Reporting Challenge” that will help visualise the short term impact of the project and provide key data to measure the extend good practices within our community groups.
Otago Museum has a long existing relationship with many key partners of the project: NHNZ, Orokonui Ecosantuary, DOC, Enviroschools, Botanical Gardens, Wild Dunedin and the University of Otago, as well as with regional museums in Otago, Southland and Canterbury region.

Our involvement in the successful delivery of Lab in a Box science engagement programmes has provided the opportunity to establish a close relationship with more than 45 rural communities in the above mentioned regions. Thru this extended platform we will be able to guarantee reaching our target audiences and engaging with those hard to reach communities.
Last year we directly engaged with over 10,000 people in the South Island, from Aoraki Mount Cook to Steward Island.

And yes, the name of the project might create some confusion to some… maybe a subtitle will help? Welcome any ideas!

Also in the spirit of networking, really keen on hearing about your area of expertise and past experience in similar projects.



Jennifer Mcguire Oct 9, 2017

This is an interesting project and it has stimulated a lot of discussion which is good. I like that it would make experiences accessible to people who may not normally have the opportunity to physically go to environments like the Chathams.

I am concerned that the virtual experience doesn't encourage people to physically venture into the outdoors and making those all important connections first hand. How often do you envisage this VR tool being used on average by a kiwi family for example? Will the experience derive from a one off museum visit or how might it b integrated to create more sustainable and environmentally conscious behaviors?


Nathalie Wierdak Oct 10, 2017

Hi Jennifer,
Thank you very much for getting in touch.
Access to sciences is a key resource for people development and empowerment. With “Guardians of Zealandia” we want to make engage with rural communities and expose them to the latest in scientific technologies and make science and the scientific process more accessible and understandable.

It is estimated that 90% of learning occurs outside of the classroom. It is therefore important that enthusiasm for science and technology (S&T) is nurtured not just in the classroom but at home. Nurturing this higher-level curiosity and understanding of S&T can be difficult for parents who themselves may not have the background to convey. Moreover, there are very few fora in which families can engage in S&T together, and build a shared understanding and appreciation for S&T. In this particular project this refers to the use of immersive digital technologies using 360 VR. We will make use available open platforms and the resources we will develop will be free to access by any member of the public. In addition the structures for the VR set can be built using house hold items (cereal or shoe boxes) and then a mobile phone (Smartphone) can easily be turn into your own homemade VR set.

I think a good combination of VR educational resources with guiding outside explorations will be winning combination in making the project a success. To give you a possible example, using your homemade the VR set imagine going inside a Weta burrow, and later going for an exploration in the garden to find similar creatures that behave in the same way, or eat the same things, to accompany this as a family a hands on activity you’ll have a DIY on building a Bug Mansion/Hotel. You can also visit a Penguin Colony with your VR set, and spot the flora that the Penguins like best for nesting, then visit your local beach and identify the flora and whether or not that particular spot will be good for Penguins. There are many possibility in which S&T can be used as an initial “hook” for sustainable actions.

Happy to discuss further at any stage, and will really like to hear about what you do.



Jennifer Mcguire Oct 10, 2017

This is going to be a great resource especially as you have put considerable thought into how it is supported - it's accessible, fresh and will appeal to a broad audience. There is breadth and depth of outlook. Great work.


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Becky Wilson Oct 11, 2017

The idea has been progressed to the next milestone


Jennifer Mcguire Oct 13, 2017

This would be cool for bats

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