The ASEAN region, cradles a treasure trove of plant and animal species. Despite occupying only three percent of the earth’s total surface, it is home to 18 to 19 percent of all known species of plants and animals, making it critically important to global environmental sustainability. The region includes three mega-diverse countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines; several bio-geographical units: Malesia, Wallacea, Sundaland, Indo-Burma, and the Central Indo-Pacific; and numerous centres of concentration of restricted-range bird, plant and insect species. Southeast Asia has one-third or 284,000 square kilometers of all coral reefs, which are among the most diverse in the world.
Like the rest of the world, the peoples of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam depend on the basic products provided by nature’s biodiversity such as food, medicine, shelter, clean water, and a host of services. These services are estimated to be worth over 200 billion US dollars annually.
The region, however, is losing plants, animals, and other species at unprecedented rates due to deforestation, large-scale mining, massive wildlife hunting and other irresponsible human activities. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment published in 2005 reported that humans have increased extinction levels dramatically over the past decades at 100 to 1,000 times the normal background rate. Globally, 24,307 out of the 85,319 species assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are threatened. In the ASEAN region, 3,177 out of the 15,545 species assessed are threatened.
This loss poses a significant threat to the ASEAN people’s food security, health, livelihood, and the world’s overall capacity to provide for the present generations’ needs and those of future generations.
The region’s capacity to curb the problem is constrained by several roadblocks, one of which is the dire lack of awareness and knowledge on the values of biodiversity.
One alarming story is that of a critically endangered orangutan who was shot, hacked to pieces, and eaten by palm oil plantation workers in Indonesia’s Kapuas Hulu district in February 2017. Police arrested three workers after finding orangutan meat and bones in their cupboard.
A few years back, a Filipino farmer killed and cooked Kagsabua, a Philippine eagle, one of the world’s largest, tallest, and rarest eagles. Kagsabua was one of the remaining 800 Philippine eagles when he was shot in 2008. The farmer claimed he did not know that the Philippine eagle is a critically endangered species. He has since been sentenced to six years in prison for killing the eagle.
In 2014, fishermen in China’s Fujian Province hunted and captured a whale shark. They told police that they thought it was a sea monster. These are just some of many reported stories on crimes against biodiversity committed by people who claim ignorance of the endangered species and the law.
At the core of this problem is the fact that biodiversity is hardly a household name. Despite the emergence of celebrity biodiversity ambassadors like Harrison Ford and Edward Norton and environmental advocates like Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett, there remains a huge gap in biodiversity conservation communication. Biodiversity remains faceless particularly in the ASEAN region.
This lack of awareness is a grave problem which when left unaddressed will continue to seriously hamper the implementation of biodiversity conservation efforts in the region. To do nothing is akin to slowly cutting our lifeline to the world’s natural treasures.
Increased awareness is crucial in creating a groundswell that will catalyze all sectors of society to promote biodiversity conservation. It needs people who can inspire others.
Clearly, biodiversity is in urgent need of heroes that people from various sectors can identify with; modern-day heroes who can bring biodiversity closer to everyone, and inspire them to take action and conserve biodiversity.
 ASEAN Regional Centre for Biodiversity Conservation (ARCBC) and Scubazoo Images. Saving the ASEAN Dream. 2004.
 Badilla, Joselle. Tribal farmer surrenders, admits killing Philippine eagle. Inquirer.net. 18 July 2008. (Can be accessed at http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/topstories/topstories/view/20080718-149299/Bukidnon-farmer-surrenders-admits-killing-Philippine-eagle).
 Griffiths, James. Fisherman arrested after whale shark’s death sparks online outrage. CNN.com. 12 May 2016. (Can be accessed at http://edition.cnn.com/2016/05/12/asia/china-beihai-whale-shark/).