Ocean conservation was dealt a major blow when the U.S. Coast Guard recovered the body of Toronto filmmaker Rob Stewart near the Florida Keys.
The 37-year-old Stewart had gone missing while on his third dive of the day near the Alligator Reef in the Upper Florida Keys on January 31. Tragically, his body was located on February 3 at a depth of 220 feet.
Stewart was lauded internationally for his 2006 documentary Sharkwater, which sounded the alarm on how sharks were being hunted to extinction, fuelled by everything from shark-fin soup demand in Asia to poaching in Guatemala and Costa Rica. He also illustrated that because sharks have been demonized by fear-fuelled depictions, their decimation has been overlooked.
“An elephant falls for ivory in Africa and the whole world goes crazy,” Stewart told the Georgia Straight in a 2007 interview. “Elephants kill 200 people a year. We kill 100 million sharks a year and nobody notices or cares. Nobody wants to fight for the protection of sharks because people view them as dangerous predators of people. Yet sharks kill five people a year, on average.”
In Sharkwater, Stewart pointed out that as apex predators, sharks help to manage sea-life populations. Consequently, the demise of sharks is contributing to an imbalance in ocean ecosystems that will eventually prove catastrophic.
After the release of his film, the shark-conservation movement gained momentum around the world. In Vancouver in 2009, Stewart helped to set up Shark Truth, a local organization that has been raising awareness in Chinese communities of the negative impact of shark-fin soup and encouraging “fin-free” alternatives for celebrations.
In fact, Stewart was on a dive to shoot footage for Sharkwater: Extinction when he went missing. In the film, Stewart planned on following the trail of money involved in shark slaughters all the way to the pirate fishing industry.
Stewart also made the 2012 documentary Revolution, which addressed environmental crises around the world—including Alberta’s tar sands, climate change, species extinction, and ocean acidification—and what people could do about them.
For those who want to learn more about Stewart’s ever-relevant work, Entertainment One and the Stewart family are hosting screenings of Sharkwater across Canada on February 25, including at the Park Theatre (3440 Cambie Street) in Vancouver. Admission is by donation to WFF-Canada, with all funds going toward supporting Stewart’s conservation work.