ASEAN Biodiversity Hero – Dr. Maung Maung Kyi, Myanmar


Maung Maung Kyi

Mr. Win Naing Thaw, Director, Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MoNREC), Governing Board Member, ACB

Conservationist promotes community participation to conserve various habitats

As a 17-year-old medicine student in the 1970s, Dr. Maung Maung Kyi dreamt of establishing a botanical garden in the Kyeintali region in Myanmar’s Southern Rakhine State. Coming from a family of farmers, he grew up appreciating the many benefits that biodiversity provides to humans.

Even as he pursued a career in medicine, he steadily worked toward achieving his dream. In 1977, he tried to find a land suitable for building his dream garden, but faced difficulty in purchasing land.

In 1985, he inherited a paddy farm from his mother’s side of the family. Near the farm was a degraded forest. He started conserving this forest land.

Two years later, he bought a land near his village. Dr. Kyi’s conservation journey started in 1987 when he established a botanical garden with the aim of studying various species and sharing his knowledge with younger generations.

His initiative was met with opposition from his relatives and villagers. They wanted him to focus on his career as a medical doctor who supports the village’s healthcare needs. “Why is a medical doctor spending his time building a garden?” many of them asked. Still, he pursued his dream.

By 1997, the small garden he established became a young forest. Some graduates from his village became interested in his conservation activities. With these persons, he formed a community-based organization to actively implement conservation initiatives.

In 2007, his conservation forest became a moderately mature forest rich with various tree species, shrubs, herbs and endemic orchids. “Top soil became fertile and rich with microbes and insects because forest fire was under control. For example, after facing a scarcity of mushrooms in 1987, we had plenty of mushrooms by 2007. Some villagers secretly entered my conservation garden to gather mushrooms, because their mushroom gathering areas got depleted year after year,” shared Dr. Kyi.

In comparing his conservation forest with another forest outside his garden, he noticed many differences. Biodiversity in his conservation forest garden gradually became richer every year. The haven he established is now home to wildlife including birds, barking deers, jackals, bears, and squirrels. Birds such small robins and hornbills also flock to his conservation forest. There are also many kinds of freshwater fish and prawns. In the forest outside his garden, he said “everything was depleted. Everything was diminished.”

It was then that he decided to expand his activities beyond his conservation forest. He founded Rakhine Coastal Region Conservation Association (RCA), a community-based organization that seeks to conserve the environment and biodiversity in and around his region.

Dr. Kyi and his team started working with local NGOs including the Mangrove Environmental Rehabilitation Network (MERN), the Ecosystem Conservation and Community Development Initiative (ECCDI), Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (BANCA), FOW, POINT, and TWA. He also formed partnerships with international organizations such as Istituto Oikos, WCS, Pyoepin, and RECOFTC. He and his colleagues have joined with many specialists from universities and foundations.

To date, Dr. Kyi and his team have planted over 5 million mangrove trees in Gwa Tsp. with MERN. He and his team found Bruguiera hainesii, a globally critically endangered mangrove species. They established a biodiversity hotspot to protect and conserve the species.

In an interview with Frontier Myanmar, Dr. Kyi highlighted the importance of mangroves. “As the saying goes, ‘no mangroves, no fish’. That is really true because many of the smaller fish depend on mangroves and the life of a tiger prawn starts in the mangroves,” he said. He further explained that mangrove conservation can contribute towards easing the impact of global warming because the forests have the ability to store large volumes of carbon dioxide, much of which is produced by burning the fossil fuels blamed for the gradual rise in our planet’s temperature.

“Each hectare of soil in mangrove forests can store 1,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide and their leaves can absorb carbon dioxide at five times the rate of other trees,” Dr. Kyi said.

He and the people in his community also established a biodiversity hotspot for a rare sea turtle species at Sedikwin village beach. He led the respective communities to establish about 20,000 acres of conservation area in his township. He highlighted the need for cooperation at the local, state and international levels. “Local people need to stop eating turtle products; from the government side we need legal cooperation to enforce the laws, and at the international level we require coordinated protection for the turtles in their respective territories,” Dr. Kyi said.

Dr. Kyi played a leading role in Integrated Community Fisheries in Rakhine state. He and his team are working with WCS, Pyoepin and the University of Exeter from UK for the Darwin Project, securing marine fisheries in Kyeintali Sub-township area. This is a pilot project and will be expanded to other states and regions to include all of Myanmar’s coastal marine fisheries.

Communities recognize the success stories of Dr. Kyi’s group’s activities implemented in mountain forests, freshwater areas, mangroves, sand dune forest, sea grass, and coral reefs.

Believing that community participation is key to the success of conservation efforts, he encouraged locals to join conservation initiatives.