No cause too petty for celebrity animal activist Sharon Kwok
Tackling environmental problems - from fighting the shark-fin trade to conserving elephants - takes patience, effort and a bit of charm
The former Miss International Chinatown USA orders fries, and tucks in. Sharon Kwok has definitely got the glam element – she was a successful model and then starred in a slew of Hong Kong movies in the 1990s.
But for the past few years, Kwok, 43, an ardent animal rights activist, has turned her attention to the plight of our world: the fast disappearance of elephants; the demise of the alpha predators in our oceans; and how we shouldn’t be looking to others to solve our environmental woes because it all boils down to consumer demand.
“Our governments are not policing our oceans enough,” says Kwok. “More than 70 per cent of our world’s surface is oceans.”
She goes on to describe the protected species often readily available at seafood restaurants in Sai Kung.
Kwok has done her research. An avid diver, what she doesn’t have in terms of a PhD in marine biology, she more than makes up for in reading and teaming up with experts such American oceanographer and explorer Sylvia Earle, whom she enjoys meeting up with when she visits Asia.
“You will always have people in China who pretend they are above the law and will always go for the illegal, strange, foods,” says Kwok. But she’s been delighted by the recent move by airlines to refuse to carry shark’s fin.
“You can also get to the parents by going through the kids,” she says, after a attending a banquet where children refused to eat shark fin, much to their parents’ embarrassment.
Kwok also says that documentaries like The Cove, about Japan’s controversial annual dolphin cull, do have an effect.
“Protesters’ voices may take time, but they do finally make a difference,” she says. “People like that inspire me. But there are so many issues that matter. We’re living on the Titanic right now and it’s like people just worry about the furniture on board. Let’s fix the ship first and then worry about other issues.”
Kwok has put her money where her mouth is, setting up the ACE Foundation (Aquameridian Conservation and Education Foundation), of which she is executive director.
She regularly is involved in environmental education with children and also has supported young activists fighting the shark fin and ivory trade. She is regularly in the press promoting the cause.
“You have a choice of just moping around or stomaching it and doing something about it,” she says of the degradation of the environment.
Kwok, the daughter of a founder of Ocean Park, studied fine art. She says she was a tomboy growing up, which was why her mother put her into high heels and beauty pageants in the United States.
It certainly gave Kwok poise and confidence, but she is also refreshingly down-to-earth – and well-informed. She’s used her previous television and production experience to bring her love of animals and the environment to local TV channels.
“Come on, how much is enough?” she asks of Hong Kong’s wealth-accumulation and development. “I’m a little bit sick of us not doing much. We need to wake up.
“Do you know what mangroves per square metre produce more oxygen than rain forests?” she asks, before suggesting that areas near Mai Po used for aqua culture could be turned into mangrove swamps.
Kwok also would like to see Hong Kong’s commercial entities doing more. “If you are really going to do CSR [corporate social responsibility], then do something for the community that will extend into the future,” she says.