ASEAN, Ph celebrate heroism and youth action for biodiversity

MANILA, Philippines–In celebration of the 56th ASEAN Day and the International Youth Day, the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) convened modern-day heroes for nature conservation and young communicators from all over Southeast Asia for the ASEAN Biodiversity Heroes Forum from 11 to 12 August 2023.

The two-day forum marked a historic occasion where the ASEAN Biodiversity Heroes gathered to share their conservation stories among budding and professional development communication practitioners, storytellers, content creators, journalists, and creative writers across the region.

“Today, we will hear the stories of triumphs and challenges of our ASEAN Biodiversity Heroes who represent very diverse fields of expertise. We have heroes who are wildlife veterinarians, educators, government officials, youth leaders, community leaders, medical doctors, marine scientists, businessmen, foresters, and researchers. They may have different backgrounds, languages, and expertise, but they have one thing in common—their commitment to protection of the environment and clear vision for a greener or bluer planet managed by a well-informed and conscientious citizenry,” said Dr. Theresa Mundita Lim, ACB executive director.

At the said event, ASEAN Biodiversity Hero and Senator Loren Legarda, Senate President Pro Tempore of the Republic of the Philippines, announced the upcoming search for Youth Biodiversity Heroes—a brainchild of her recognition as an ASEAN Biodiversity Hero from the Philippines. In her keynote speech, she affirmed the role of the youth in maintaining biodiversity which is crucial for keeping a well-balanced life, in the Philippines and also in the ASEAN. “On this day, here, at the ASEAN Biodiversity Heroes Forum, we must recognize that the ability of the race and the species to survive and avoid extirpation lies in the hands of our youth – you, the inspiring individuals who can snatch life on the planet from the brink of extinction”, said Senator Legarda. She also announced the nationwide search for the Youth Biodiversity Heroes which will be a joint initiative of Senator Legarda and the ACB. The senator also hopes that this can be replicated in other ASEAN countries—Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

Assistant Secretary Daniel Espiritu of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines and Assistant Secretary Marcial Amaro, Jr. of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources were also present in the forum to express their support to the ACB as the only ASEAN centre hosted by the Philippines.


Learning from the wise


One of the highlights of the forum is Conservation Conversation, a talk show moderated by broadcast media expert David Celdran featuring the ASEAN Biodiversity Heroes, who shared their stories and experiences with the young audience. Session 1 of the talk show focused on the value of communication and education in effectively managing biodiversity. The heroes featured in this session were Sophea Chhin from Cambodia, Professor Zakri Abdul Hamid from Malaysia, Prof. Dr. Dang Huy Huynh from Viet Nam, and Mr. Alex Waisimon from Indonesia. Session 2 featured biodiversity heroes who represent the conservation sector—foresters, environmental scientists, wildlife conservationists, and protected area experts. They were Dr. Anhar Lubis from Indonesia, Nitsavanh Louangkhot Pravongviengkham and Khampay Xayyalad from Lao PDR, Nay Win Swe  from Myanmar, and Professor Chou Loke Ming from Singapore. One of the knowledge imparted from the discussion was the importance of exchanging information with the community and not centralizing the knowledge within the academic field. Communicating the importance of biodiversity and changing people’s behavior appeared as encompassing challenges cited by the heroes in their line of work but according to scientist Prof. Zakri, “As long as there is hope, we will still carry on” and will continue doing what they are doing. Prof. Ming keeps up the faith as a marine biologist working on the conservation of coral reefs in Singapore. “When I look at coral reefs, I get inspired because I see that our corals have not given up despite all these urbanisation pressures, very intense pressures. Corals are still there although they have been reduced. They are still there surviving, reproducing, growing, and I decided that if the corals have not given up, despite all those pressures, then we should not give up on coral reefs themselves. And that’s why I continue to work towards conservation and protection of coral reefs”, said Prof. Ming.

To date, there are 19 ASEAN Biodiversity Heroes—individuals who were given the highest distinction by the ASEAN due to their contributions to biodiversity conservation in their countries and in Southeast Asia. The complete list of ASEAN Biodiversity Heroes can be accessed at

The second day of the forum focused on youth action for biodiversity. With the goal to encourage the youth to utilise their creative talents and voices to become advocates for nature, a workshop was conducted, where students and young professionals from all over ASEAN brainstormed on how they can become biodiversity heroes in the future.

The youth forum started off with presentations from biodiversity experts at the ACB, development communication expert Dr. Maria Stella Tirol of the College of Development Communication at UP Los Banos, and seasoned reporters and journalists Mr. Jonathan Mayuga of the Business Mirror and Mr. Howie Severino of GMA Network.


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