Marine Champion Honoured With Award

[ICCB 2019] The man who was a force behind Malaysia’s marine parks and the region’s Coral Triangle was honoured with an award at the International Congress on Conservation Biology (ICCB) 2019.

For his leadership in “translating principles of conservation biology into real-world conservation”, Kevin Hiew was awarded with the US-based Society for Conservation Biology (SCB)’s Edward T. LaRoe III Memorial Award.

Hiew, 73, is the first Malaysian to win this award.

The award recognises long-service civil servants who have made notable achievements in their public service capacity and are internationally-recognised.

Hard sell

As a Fisheries Department officer, Hiew overcame huge resistance from within the government service as well as externally from fisherfolk and state governments, to have marine protected areas established in Malaysia.

But it was after he retired from his 28-year civil service career and joined WWF-Malaysia as a consultant that he realised the importance of co-management, a point he raised in his award acceptance speech.

“To be honest, when we established marine parks, we took a very top-down approach,” he said to Macaranga. “We had ‘dialogues’ with the public but it was actually just to inform them that we were setting up these parks.

“But it was working with NGOs that taught me about meaningful community engagement”.

It takes a village

Hiew is now a champion of that, both in his work with the Coral Triangle Initiative as well as currently, as advisor to Reef Check Malaysia.

“Co-management is crucial to conservation,” he said. “We need every one of the stakeholders involved in a conservation area to buy into its management. We all need to work together, whether it’s a local project or a multi-country project like the Coral Triangle.”

Said Eduardo Callo-Cajiao, Chair of the SCB Awards Committee, “Kevin demonstrates the capacity to articulate key principles of conservation for informing decisions to protect coral reefs. And he has been able to influence political processes and operationalise this articulation politically.”

The award is highly competitive and global, he said.

Significant contribution

For Hiew’s proposer, Surin Suksuwan, Hiew’s significant contribution as a public servant to biodiversity conservation warranted recognition. “Kevin totally fits the bill,” said Suksuwan, member of the IUCN World Commission for Protected Areas.

Hiew is grateful to the SCB and his proposers as well as his colleagues past and current, for the honour, and the opportunity to share his messages.

In particular, he emphasised that the government’s role in Malaysia is crucial to conservation. “In Malaysia, nothing can move without the government. At all levels – federal, state and especially city or town or district level – they decide whether a resort in front of a turtle-landing beach can be approved or an air strip on a small island can be built.

“Government must be part of the equation.”

(Photo: Kevin Hiew receiving the LaRoe award from the President of the SCB Board of Governors, Dr Adina Merenlender. Credit: SL Wong)

This is a part of our reporting on the International Congress for Conservation Biology, July 21-25, 2019, Kuala Lumpur.