Losing our native species is not an inevitability but a choice - and one that could hurt New Zealand in more ways than we realise.
That's the message in a new book that will draw on one of the most comprehensive reviews of biodiversity and related policy done in New Zealand.
After thousands of hours researching Vanishing Nature: Facing New Zealand's biodiversity crisis, lead author Dr Marie Brown believes that saving cherished species such as the kiwi and kakapo is not so much a scientific problem as a political and economic one.
She said the country had to overhaul legislation, beef up conservation funding and empower all New Zealanders to get involved.
Losing the battle for native species would be a blow for the environment, tourism and the wider economy, she said.
"So much of our international brand is reliant on a clean and healthy environment.
"It is therefore somewhat baffling that the connection between loss of biodiversity and consequential loss of economic wellbeing is so rarely drawn."
Dr Brown, the Environmental Defence Society's senior policy analyst, said the book first addressed the rate and scale of decline in the country.
In the past 800 years, humans and their accompanying pests had brought about the extinction of 32 per cent of indigenous land and freshwater birds, 18 per cent of endemic seabirds, three of seven frogs, at least 12 invertebrates, possibly 11 plants, a fish, a bat and perhaps three known reptiles.
Today, about 1000 animal, plant and fungi species are considered threatened, and it is likely that many unknown species are also threatened.
Dr Brown said kiwi were being lost at a rate of 2 per cent each year, and some species of lizard had lost nearly all of their habitat.
Many other species - including the Maui's dolphin and kakapo - were on the brink of extinction.
"New Zealand is a biodiversity hotspot with a significant proportion of threatened species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world," she said.
"A failure to protect them here means they are lost to the world also."
Dr Brown described the book as a "systematic analysis" of the state of biodiversity management, outlining and addressing failures by recommending a broad range of solutions at various scales.
The final chapters focused on the solutions, which the society would lobby for this year.
One of the most contentious would be a proposal to make activities which caused environmental harm pay for their effects, which would discourage damage to biodiversity and raise money for conservation efforts.
"All of those processes which erode natural capital - water abstraction and fertiliser application, for example - we need to be getting a lot harder on those and stop assuming that the environment will continue to absorb those impacts, because it demonstrably isn't."
While the Department of Conservation (DoC) had done commendable work, she and her co-authors believed it was not adequately funded to protect the country's huge number of threatened species.
Conservation Minister Maggie Barry was unavailable for comment yesterday but a briefing to her by DoC highlighted possible improvements in marine protection through a legislation update.
The briefing also said policies and incentives for protecting biodiversity on private land were "not sufficient" to save species.
Kiwi were likely to be lost from mainland New Zealand "within our grandchildren's lifetimes" and without continuing intervention could die out within 50 years.
Said Dr Brown: "In my view, we shouldn't be losing species at this time - not with the scientific capabilities we have now.
"Failing to safeguard biodiversity is a choice, not an inevitability."
The book, published by the Environmental Defence Society, will go on sale in March.