Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Letter to the Editor: Passing of Seahorse Activist A Huge Loss


Sharon Cheah’s tribute to conservationist and marine biologist Choo Chee Kuang (The Star, 1st July) brings back fond memories of the time I spent with Choo as a volunteer for Save Our Seahorses (SOS) Malaysia from 2007 to 2010.

Choo was a mild-mannered, soft-spoken and scholarly young man, which makes it all the more surprising that he decided to venture into the merciless world of activism and advocacy. He started a conservation NGO, Save Our Seahorses (SOS) Malaysia, from scratch in 2004 and kept it going against all odds. He soon proved himself to be someone with great moral courage and determination to fight for what’s right, even if he often had to go up against big corporations and governmental agencies alone. He was a strong advocate for the Orang Seletar (sea gypsies) in Johor and also helped the local community in Gelang Patah understand how their lives were intertwined with their natural environment. Choo inspired both the young people and fishermen of the local villages to take an active interest in natural history and the environmental sciences, paving the way for other grassroots organisations and environmental educators to initiate projects with the local community later.

Through his NGO, Choo also created opportunities for laypersons to be part of his incredible journey to save seahorses and a sensitive marine habitat. I had the great privilege of participating in 5 seagrass monitoring and seahorse data collection exercises with SOS Malaysia, and this experience benefitted me and the other participants immensely and heightened our appreciation for seahorses and our beautiful seas. We marvelled at Choo’s seemingly psychic ability to locate seahorses and pipefish hiding among the seagrass and how gentle he was in handling seahorses, which he managed to reconcile with a warrior spirit when it came to protecting the vulnerable marine and mangrove ecosystems against unfettered development and destruction.

All the volunteers who had participated in combing the seagrass beds for specimens, tagging and releasing seahorses, conducting environmental education activities for the local youth and collecting litter from the coastal area have utmost respect for Choo as someone who was not only professional and brilliant, but also principled, compassionate and a joy to work with. His untimely demise on June 9 is a great loss to the cause of environmental conservation.

If Choo ever left a legacy, it is one of kindness, generosity of spirit and a fierce and sincere passion to leave the world a better place. Choo showed us that each of us has the potential to be an activist and protector of the defenceless. His memory lives on in his many achievements and in the lives he had touched and inspired.



Ellen Whyte said...

Never heard of him before. What a shame! he sounds a wonderful person. Sorry for your loss, Ee Lynn

~CovertOperations78~ said...

If you had interviewed him during his lifetime, you would have loved him, Ellen! Chee Kuang was such a humble, sweet, unassuming guy. Makes you feel almost protective of him.