Sharon Kwok may be best known for her roles in dozens of Hong Kong movies in the 1980s and 1990s, but these days the former beauty pageant contestant is acting on a much bigger stage – planet earth. “When I got into movies, I was a teenager. I never studied acting, so it was just like a roller-coaster ride,” says Kwok, who was born in Hong Kong and moved to the United States when she was 10.
“I’m actually a fine arts student and teacher, so my true calling would either be fine arts or maybe working with nature. And they’re my two favourite things, really.”
Kwok’s association with nature dates back to childhood, when her father was one of the founding members of Ocean Park. “I grew up with a privileged association with animals,” she says. “In those days, I didn’t realise that a lot of that, in retrospect, is wrong. Once people learn more about these animals, they’ll realise there are certain ones that really can’t handle captivity – cetaceans [dolphins, whales and other aquatic mammals] being top of the list, in my mind.”
A member of WildAid’s international board and founder of several organisations that promote environmental awareness, Kwok has also co-produced a series for TVB and travelled extensively to spread the word on conservation.
“We’re living in Hong Kong, looking at the ocean every day. But probably half of us don’t even know how to swim.
And of the people who swim, probably a lot of them haven’t been into the ocean. And then of those only a small fraction would have been under the surface and getting to know the fish,” she says. “So what does the ocean mean to Hong Kong? It usually means, unfortunately, a nice view that increases the value of their real estate.”
Kwok’s passion for protecting our seas and wildlife is tied to the passage of time.
“The ocean is the blue engine that runs our planet, and without it we’re all going to die, frankly,” she says. “Right now we still have a bit of time to make a difference. We’ve lost 90 per cent of the large fish, but we still have 10 per cent. We’ve lost most of our coral reefs, but we still have that little bit left. There’s still time if we do something now.” While Kwok admits she’s “lousy with keeping time”, there’s one place she must be aware of each passing second.
“I can’t screw up my time when I’m underwater. That’s my life at stake. I’ve only got so much air on my back,” she says.
Back on dry land, the director of AquaMeridian remains committed to educating the public through her books, TV productions and speaking tours. “We need to wake everyone up so we all do our little part,” Kwok says.
“I really, really love my planet. I love nature and I want it to go on when I go on. I have kids myself, and we all need to act or it’s going to be too late.”