MEDIA RELEASE: Biodiversity Heroes of Cambodia, Indonesia & Philippines share spotlight in Manila

MAKATI CITY, 19 September 2018 – The ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) held the second leg of the ASEAN Biodiversity Heroes Regional Forum in Makati City, Philippines on 4-5 September. The forum aims to promote biodiversity conservation by sharing first-hand accounts of people who fight for the environment.

With support from the European Union (EU) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB), the forum featured the ASEAN Biodiversity Heroes of Cambodia, Indonesia, and the Philippines and highlighted the Heroes contribution to the improvement of biodiversity in their respective countries.

Some fragments of the population do not seem to be aware yet of the importance of biodiversity, let alone to take extra efforts in conserving it. If there is no urgent action to tackle this, the lack of awareness will continue to be a stumbling block to biodiversity conservation efforts in the region, said ASEAN Deputy Secretary-General for Socio-Cultural Community Vongthep Arthakaivalvatee. It is, therefore, critical for all of us to work together to make biodiversity conservation much more well-understood and well-attended, especially by the younger generation–our future decision-makers, he added.

The Deputy Secretary-General also shared highlights of the conceptualisation and realisation of the ASEAN Biodiversity Heroes. Todays event is particularly special to me as it brings me back to the discussion of its inception when I floated the idea of having an ASEAN-wide biodiversity heroes programme about two years ago. Today, I am very proud to witness the fruits of the labour by the ACB and all ASEAN Member States in making the initiative a great success.

Representing the EU Delegation to the Philippines was Xavier Canton-Lamousse, Project Manager of the Biodiversity Conservation and Management or Protected Areas in ASEAN or the BCAMP Project of the EU and ACB. We need a global vision and political will at the highest level to halt biodiversity loss, and I have no doubt that the ASEAN-EU partnership can reinforce that vision towards a common objective and interest, he stressed.

During the opening programme, ACB Executive Director Dr. Theresa Mundita Lim addressed the guests representing the youth, academe, media, national agencies, and non-government organisations. We have been conducting meetings, workshops, conferences, and disseminating communication materials promoting conservation for the longest time–but biodiversity needs FACES.

Now, we are fortunate that we already have ten modern-day heroes who are helping us mainstream biodiversity in their own spheres of influence. These heroes are ordinary citizens of ASEAN; each has inspiring stories to tell how they continue combatting biodiversity loss, she added.

Heroes Up Close

A highlight of the program was a talk-show segment, wherein the Heroes were individually interviewed by Antoinette Taus, a Filipina actress and singer who is the founder of the non-profit organization known as Communities Organized for Resource Allocation (CORA). Taus asked each of the Heroes several questions, and also encouraged the student participants to ask their own questions to the Heroes.

It is education and awareness. Sometimes, they dont know what biodiversity means. Why do I need to conserve and protect the species? The best thing to do is bring the information and the beauty of wildlife to the city, said Sophea Chhin when asked what was his conservation advocacy.

The youngest among all the ASEAN Biodiversity Heroes, Chhin recalled that his interest in biodiversity conservation began when as a young boy he witnessed his villagers in his community in Cambodia hunting and killing birds for food. He then decided to pursue studies related to the environment, taking up Biology and later on, Management Information System. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate of Ecological Conservation.

Among his significant contributions to wildlife research and education in Cambodia include founding the Birds of Cambodia Education and Conservation, a program that promotes the photography of birds and other wildlife in protected areas, and allows the works of various enthusiasts to be featured in scientific books that will be distributed to libraries in Cambodia.

The ASEAN Biodiversity Hero from Indonesia, Alex Waisimon, had extensive work experience from different areas of the world but decided to return to his home in Papua to find ways on how he can help protect the forests while providing for the economic needs of the community. He developed a sustainable ecotourism program that features the birds of paradise. While providing guided tours, he conversed with the guests on importance of the birds of paradise and other wildlife, as well as the importance of biodiversity and the role that people have in its conservation. Home is home. Some call me crazy because despite having a career in Europe, I still chose to go back to the forests. There, we have no electricity; life is tough. So I knew I have to help my community; I then decided to start the ecotourism program, Waisimon shared.

Previously a chef and a tour guide, Waisimon became a community leader who is now going to other areas to share his conservation stories. He spoke at international events such as the Marrakech Climate Change Conference 2016 and the International Conference on Biodiversity, Ecotourism, and Creative Economy 2016.

Biodiversity conservation is not easy. When I started, I had no income. I started from zero, to hero, Waisimon shared with the audience. Many people are scared to start. But you have to start now. Trust and believe that you can, he concluded.

Award-winning marine biologist and educator, Dr. Angel Alcala, the ASEAN Biodiversity Hero from the Philippines, is a National Scientist who was given the prestigious title in 2014. Dr. Alcala founded the Silliman Marine Laboratory, now known as the Institute of Environmental and Marine Sciences. He also established the Philippines first no-take marine reserve, the Sumilon Marine Reserve, as well as the Apo Marine Reserve.

When asked during the interview on what are the changes he would like to see with respect to biodiversity, Dr. Alcala said that he would like to see a change in the attitudes of people on biodiversity. We can change this through education. Another thing that I would like to emphasize is that the conservation of biodiversity must be done with the conservation of the environment. Without conserving their natural habitat, conserving life forms will be put in vain.

The second day of the forum was conducted in the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). Acting Assistant Director Angel P. Bautista of the NMNH welcomed the ASEAN Biodiversity Heroes, ASEAN Member States representatives, ACB, BMB, and senior high school students from Manuel G. Araullo High School. The Indonesian and Philippines Heroes shared with the students their stories of how and why they chose to do something significant for the environment. They also encouraged the students to do actions locally to spark interest on conservation advocacy. After the meet and greet activity, the students toured the museums Galleries 9 and 10 — which showcase the coastal and marine realm with NMNH museum guides.

ASEANs exemplary citizens for biodiversity conservation identified

Recognised during the 50th Anniversary of the ASEAN on 8 August 2017 in Manila, Philippines, the ASEAN Biodiversity Heroes are 10 outstanding individuals who were chosen for their notable actions in biodiversity conservation. The ASEAN Biodiversity Heroes 2017 are Eyad Samhan of Brunei Darussalam, Sophea Chinn of Cambodia, Alex Waisimon of Indonesia, Nitsavanh Louangkhot Pravongviengkham of Lao PDR, Prof. Zakri Abdul Hamid of Malaysia, Dr. Maung Maung Kyi of Myanmar, Dr. Angel C. Alcala of the Philippines, Prof. Leo Tan Wee Hin of Singapore, Dr. Nonn Panitvong of Thailand, and Prof. Dr. Dang Huy Huynh of Viet Nam.

The first leg of the ASEAN Biodiversity Heroes Regional Forum was held on 26 and 27 March 2018, at Viet Nams Hanoi University of Natural Resources and Environment (HUNRE). At that event, the spotlight was on the Heroes from Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

Eyed to be held in mid-2019, the third and final leg of the Regional Forum will invite the Heroes from Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, and Singapore to come together and share their own biodiversity conservation activities to encourage the audience to also join in protecting ASEANs rich biodiversity.

The ACB was established in 2005 by the ASEAN Member States as an answer to biodiversity loss in the region. The Centre supports and coordinates the implementation of activities in the ASEAN leading to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, for the benefit of the region and the AMS.

For more information about biodiversity in the ASEAN region, log on to www.aseanbiodiversity.org.

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