*An interview with Alvin Chelliah from Cintai Tioman*
1) Can you please explain what the Cintai Tioman programme is all about.
Cintai Tioman programme is mainly about building social and ecological resilience on Tioman island. In other words, we are identifying all local threats to the environment and to the community living on the island and we are trying to solve these threats and issues.
2) One aspect of Cintai Tioman that I am impressed with is how you are involving the local people, how did you do this and why is this important?
This programme looks at building social resilience, in other words preparing the local community to face changes. When we started this programme we conducted many interviews with the villagers and asked them to tell us issues they were facing and problems they wanted solved. We then started to help them solve these problems. When they saw initial results and that we were genuinely trying to help them, they got interested in the program and willingly wanted to be a part of it. One example of a problem we addressed together was solid waste management.
We feel it is vital that the local community are part of the programme and have some sort of ownership because unless they feel included, the programme and its efforts will not be sustainable. The locals have the most to lose, it is their island, their home; who better to protect and defend it. We just need to show them why it is important and how they can protected the island.
3) What is the key to working with the local villagers?
Be patient, take time to understand their point of view and their back ground. Always remember that they may be facing other pressing issues that we are un aware of. It’s not easy to think about the environment on an empty stomach…
4) What are the 5 main threats for coral reefs in Tioman island?
a. Illegal fishing
b. Water Pollution
c. Irresponsible tourist behavior
d. Marine debris
e. Anchoring on reefs
5) As a marine biologists living his dream job, can you give 3 of your best tips to future budding Alvin Chelliah’s out there.
Hahaha not so sure if I would say it’s a dream job, but it’s true that I enjoy what I do… Well, to those that want to be involved in conservation I would say:
Firstly, you need to be ready to work with the people living in the environment you want to conserve. The science bit is easy, the people bit is not so easy lah…. but is just as important if not more.
Secondly make sure you have the passion for it. The work is tough, the hours are long, the pay ain’t gonna make you rich. So at the end of the day the only thing that is going to keep you going is your passion and at the end of the day that is all you really need.
Finally, I would say think about conservation as giving people options. We are showing them a better way to do things, a more sustainable way to live. We can show them how they can protect their island, their home, their coral reefs; but we can’t force them to do anything, people have to make that choice on their own.