Respected Canadian filmmaker and conservation advocate Rob Stewart died last week while working on a documentary film in the Florida Keys. Born in Toronto in 1979, he grew up enjoying an active diving life with his close-knit family. His 2006 documentary Sharkwater won international acclaim and shed an important light on the gruesome activity of shark-finning. His legacy of books and films will continue to shape and improve awareness of pressing issues such as extinction and climate change.
As an underwater filmmaker that also works in challenging conditions, I am often asked "Why do you do it?" After all, we are tasked with making art while simultaneously operating life support systems that would make most people's heads spin. The reward is rarely financial security. We do it because there is a fire in our belly. We desperately want to get critical messages out into the world and know that our images and passion might help the cause. I want to share images that make people's jaws drop. And while their mouths are open, I'll shove a little truth in there too.
We all assume risks in our daily lives. If asked, an actuary would likely tell us that Stewart was more likey to die while driving to the dive boat that morning. And yet when tragedies like this occur, there is usually a reactionary attempt to assign blame. A young and promising life was lost and nobody wants to see that happen again, yet, as a colleague and one who respects his passion, I would offer this: Rob was a Waterman. When he was first brought into this world, he probably regretted the loss of his evolutionary gills.
From the beginnning, he was driving to commune with the ocean and probably felt its ebb and flow in his bones. He had one singular focus in life, and that was to communicate a dire warning about how quickly our planet is changing. As society becomes ever more disconnected with the environment, he was one with it. So if you want to honour Rob, remember him smiling and flashing an okay sign on the surface of the ocean. Pay attention to his films and fulfill his legacy by doing something positive for our water planet.