Environmental Champion Receives President’s Award for the Environment 2021

13 October

Congratulations to Mr Joseph Koh (Science ‘72), who was recently awarded the President’s Award for the Environment (PAE) (2021). The PAE is Singapore’s highest accolade for individuals, organisations and educational institutions that have made significant contributions towards environmental sustainability in Singapore.

This award is just the icing on the cake of Mr Koh’s lifetime achievements in biodiversity research, nature conservation, and other contributions to NUS and Singapore. Over the years, Mr Koh has continued to maintain close links with the NUS Department of Biological Sciences, encouraging and strengthening NUS’ biodiversity research ties with scientists from universities and research institutions abroad while he was Singapore’s High Commissioner in Australia and Brunei.

Mr Koh spent decades studying spiders and published many scientific papers and identification guides on Singapore and Borneo spiders. He was part of a core research group that contributed to the Comprehensive Biodiversity Survey of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve from 2014 to 2018. He continues to devote time to pass on his skills and knowledge to young people with a passion for spiders.

With the help of the many young arachnologists who he has nurtured, Mr Koh has recorded more than 800 species of spiders in Singapore. He also pledged his entire lifetime collection of over 12,000 spider specimens to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM).

Mr Koh also worked with Professor Peter Ng (Science ’84), Head of LKCNHM to raise funds for two scholarships named after their mentor in zoology, the late Professor Dennis Hugh Murphy. This initiative is part of Mr Koh’s effort to groom young and passionate advocates for nature conservation. He also made a personal donation and rallied others to do the same for the “Jubilee Whale” display at the LKCNHM, which was launched in 2016.

As Chairman of the “Friends of Bukit Timah Forest” community group, Mr Koh played a key role in publicising the rich biodiversity in the forest ecosystem with Bukit Timah Nature Reserve as its core, and in developing a network of partnerships to involve more Singaporeans to protect, restore and enjoy the forest.

Under his leadership as its former Chairman, and currently Senior Advisor, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Singapore has forged important partnerships with non-government organisations, the business community, and government agencies. For instance, WWF Singapore has started to collaborate with the National Parks Board (NParks) to combat illegal wildlife trade, and garner public support for NParks’ species recovery programme. 

At the heart of Mr Koh’s lifetime achievements is a simple idealism. He mentions, “I hope my story will ignite the passion of our younger generation in everything they do and inspire them to play an activist role in contributing to nature conservation and environmental sustainability.”

He added, “Together, we should continue our “whole-of-society” approach to add a Bright Green Spark to that Little Red Dot: a role model for other urban centres and a new source of pride to be a Singaporean.”

Find out more about his environmental work here

Submitted by Mr Steven Tan, Department of Biological Sciences.

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