Who are you and what do you specialize in?

Hi, I am Karl Png from Singapore.

At the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, I am currently doing my Masters in Biodiversity and Conservation, specializing in Restoration.

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How did Karl Png come into this line of work & why?

My journey to where I am today started from my childhood curiosity in the natural world. I wandered often into small patches of greenery, under trees. I looked inside the bark and found insects, fungi and slime molds. With my grandparent’s plastic medicine containers, I collected and examined these life forms. My early observations of the natural world were accompanied by encyclopedias and textbooks.

These activities of exploring nature were important to my development. They kept me mentally and physically active as I walked around parks frequently and made notes of wildlife using all my senses. This also led to my hobby in gardening. Green beans, tomatoes and other plants grew in my little experimental plots. Gardening kept me fit when I carried soil and pots around and the healthy reward was eating your own produce. It was only the beginning of my adventure to conserve biodiversity globally.

During my teenage years, school, national service and other commitments got in the way. However, I maintained my interest in nature through my hobbies of gardening and wandering. Online resources became readily available and answered many of my questions. I had amazing mentors who guided me too. Eventually, there were opportunities to conserve biodiversity in Singapore. I applied for bank grants to restore patches of greenery with trees and shrubs. Some of these patches attracted birds and butterflies to visit the spaces. I was proud of my work but something was missing.

In 2015, haze came. Streets were dark and yellow. My mask could not stop the particles from entering my lungs. At one point, I could not sleep as it was too difficult to breathe. The next day, I was diagnosed with pneumonia. Thankfully, it was not fatal as the conditions of those who were not lucky. It was not right that people did not have access to clean air. Our relationship with nature needs to change.

How do you bring impact to the societies/people that you serve?

Motivated by this determination, I applied for the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Youth Biodiversity Leaders Programme workshop. I became one of the first Singapore Youth Biodiversity Leaders. After the workshop in Thailand, I returned home and shared what I learnt with various people. Some of my friends were then keen to set up a biodiversity youth advocacy group. We organized engagements and attracted participants to understand the aspirations of Singapore youth on biodiversity.

These aspirations were shared with the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN). GYBN is the official youth constituency under the United Nations Convention of Biological Diversity. The aspirations, together with those from other countries, were submitted to the Conference of Parties meeting (COP15) in Montreal December last year. Youth became one of the major stakeholders mentioned in the new targets and framework for biodiversity conservation. GYBN also supported intergenerational equity and a human rights-based approach to nature in the framework. This stresses the importance of ensuring a healthy and sustainable global environment for future generations.

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Our biodiversity youth advocacy group, Singapore Youth Voices for Biodiversity (SYVB), also organized many local outreach activities like guided walks and talks. We collaborated with numerous youth groups to produce educational material for biodiversity and infographics to raise the profile of wild spaces. We eventually became a stakeholder in important national discussions for biodiversity. It has been four years since I co-founded the group. I finally stepped down as the SYVB Executive Director and GYBN Singapore Chapter Coordinator,  letting younger peers take over. 

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How can everyday people use this information from your field to help better their lives?

From my experience so far, nature has provided many emotional, physical and mental health benefits. It is easy to connect with nature. I recommend going for a walk and reading a book outdoors during breaks. For those who are more enthusiastic, you can volunteer for your local nature group, create a native plant garden, do a biodiversity survey and count wildlife in your park. Online resources like INaturalist are useful for wildlife surveys. If you are more concerned with environmental issues, you can write to your community or organization leaders and help change major practices like switching to renewable energy sources.

What projects are you currently working on? / What excites you?

Right now, I am researching how ecosystems sequester carbon from the atmosphere to help us fight against climate change. Every effort counts.

What do you aspire to do / build?

My aspirations to discover and love the world never changed. 

How should people contact you / if they are interested in networking+learning from you?

If you are interested in contacting me, you can find me on LinkedIn at Karl Png.

If you want to read more stories of wellness and spectacular people, check out the archive here.