I was born in 1960 in Canberra, Australia. My dad was a dentist and my mum a homemaker, and I had a safe, middle-class, white Australian upbringing. Our house was in the suburbs and it backed onto bushland in a place called Mount Ainslie. We had wallabies and kangaroos grazing in the back garden. I was always profoundly grounded in nature. Canberra has a fantastic network of bike paths and I grew up riding a bike to school. Every weekend in the summer, Canberra moves to the coast and we went to Batemans Bay and spent a lot of time in a caravan 100 metres from the beach where my dad taught me body surfing and snorkelling. As I got older, I spent a lot of time hiking and camping, canyoning and rock climbing. At school I had the opportunity to do a couple of study tours to Asia. In 1975, when I was 15, we went to Java, which seemed so exotic. Two years later I went to mainland China. We visited Xian soon after the discovery of the terracotta warriors . We didn’t see the sculptures, we just saw a collection of some interesting things they’d discovered. Agent of change I studied science at school, I liked the logical structures and, in 1979, I went to the Australian National University, in Canberra, to study neuroscience. Canberra was a hotbed of radical feminism at the time and it helped me to think critically about issues of gender. Hong Kong educator who overcame abuse to help children of the poor While I was at university, I did a lot of bushwalking. I adored the really remote locations where the impact of civilisation was minimal. There was a major issue about a proposed hydroelectric scheme in southwest Tasmania , which at the time was the largest remaining area of temperate rainforest in the world. It blew up and there was a major campaign of direct action, non-violent protest. By the time I was 22, I’d been to jail three times on conservation issues. The longest I spent was a week in maximum security, but I was never convicted. There are times that you’ve got stand up for what you believe in. That campaign led to a change in national government. I like to think that in my adult life I’ve been part of movements that have led to four changes of national legislation. A shore thing I went to Canada to do a PhD in neurobiology at Dalhousie University. My then girlfriend, later wife, came to Canada with me. She is a vet. Eighteen months into the PhD, things weren’t working out with my supervisors, so I changed my supervisor and topic. I read a statistics textbook and an ecology textbook from cover to cover and became a marine ecologist. I loved living in Halifax and spent all my time outdoors. I did my fieldwork on the intertidal seashore between high tide and low tide. The plants and animals that live on the seashore are a model system for ecology. I was counting seaweeds that lived on the shore and to count them you had to move them. Below minus 10 degrees Celsius, the saltwater on the plants was frozen, which meant moving the plants would damage them, so I’d have an excuse to do an office day. I found that the plants were really important and was able to connect that to the issue of coral reef degradation so that when I finished my PhD, in 1992, I was able to score a fellowship at the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville, on the Great Barrier Reef. We found that coral reefs weren’t functioning in the overly simplistic way that most scientists assumed and by understanding it more mechanistically you can then think more carefully about what you need to manage and where. In 2003, I began working for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, another statutory authority under the Australian government, but in this case focused on management of the Great Barrier Reef. So, we were “doing” instead of “theorising”. Kids before career My daughters were born in Townsville in 1998 and 1999. The kids grew up in a house on two hectares of land, very embedded in nature and we took them on long outback camping trips. They could both snorkel under water by the time they were seven and they are both qualified scuba divers. When we had young kids, it was me who picked them up from school, it was me who took them home and got dinner for the family. One night at story time my younger daughter said, “Daddy, I like your work because it helps the sea grow better and not get killed as much. I’d like to do that work when I grow up.” As a scientist, I’m constantly exposed to yet another peer-reviewed scientific publication that shows that the biodiversity catastrophe is actually a lot worse than we realised Laurence McCook My wife had a very demanding job and I had this commitment that men’s careers don’t come first. Time after time, I stood up in a meeting which was really critical, and which might harm my career if I didn’t stay, and said I had to leave to pick up my kids. I think it had a significant impact on my career, but someone has to role-model change. My wife and I split up in 2010. It was a healthy divorce and both of us remain first and foremost committed to the kids. Road to Hong Kong I worked at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority until 2014 and left because I couldn’t stand working for a government run by Tony Abbott, and I had concerns about the direction of the authority. Australia should and could be leading the way globally and taking enormous economic benefit from leading the way in renewable energy, solar and wind; instead we spend hundreds of millions of dollars on researching how bad the Great Barrier Reef is, but we are not actually doing anything about it. That was my Road to Damascus moment. In 2016, I landed a visiting fellowship with the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Guangzhou and was based there for two out of the next three years – I was working on coral reef conservation in a more academic context, trying to support development of better coral reef management in coastal areas. It was two out of three years on a tightrope because relationships were souring while I was there, China was clamping down on the internet, it got progressively more challenging. As my fellowship there was finishing, a position at WWF in Hong Kong became vacant and I applied for it as director of oceans conservation. I moved here in 2019, pretty much the week the protests started. An unfolding catastrophe We work on local biodiversity, but we are also trying to strengthen our work on Hong Kong’s role as a marketplace for ocean biodiversity. It’s not just about managing Hong Kong’s fisheries so that they don’t damage nature, but also about managing the markets for fish in Hong Kong so that we’re not driving environmental damage in Indonesia, Africa, Chile and elsewhere in the world. We have a strong programme around sustainable seafood and our programme on marine litter is now focused on trying to transition the use of plastic from a linear economy – which ends up with stuff dumped into the ocean – to a circular economy. Recycling should be the last resort. American who built a school to empower women genocide survivors in Rwanda I am deeply concerned and terrified by what I see going on. As a scientist, I’m constantly exposed to yet another peer-reviewed scientific publication that shows that the biodiversity catastrophe is actually a lot worse than we realised. This is accumulative bad news. I am hopeful but not optimistic.