Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Rob Stewart began photographing underwater when he was 13. By the age of 18, he became a scuba instructor and then moved on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology, studying in Ontario, Jamaica and Kenya.
Before making Sharkwater (2006), Stewart spent four years traveling the world as chief photographer for the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s magazines. Leading expeditions to the most remote areas of the world, Stewart logged thousands of hours underwater using the latest in camera and rebreather technologies. Stewart’s highly sought-after images have appeared in nearly every media form worldwide.
While on assignment to photograph sharks in the Galapagos Islands, Stewart discovered illegal longlining, indiscriminately killing sharks within the marine reserve. He tried promoting awareness through print media, but when the public didn’t respond, Stewart decided to make a film to bring people closer to sharks. At the age of 22 he left his career behind and embarked on a remarkable journey over four years and 12 countries, resulting in the epic Sharkwater.
Stewart was the first to bring the devasting issue of shark finning to the world stage. Today most countries have banned shark finning, and a shark research group credits him with saving 1/3 of the world’s sharks.
Sharkwater was enormously successful, premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival and winning a “Canada’s Top Ten” award. Sharkwater made history with the largest opening weekend of any Canadian documentary, and was the most award-winning documentary of the year, winning over 35 awards at prestigious film festivals around the world.
Stewart’s hardcover book, Sharkwater: An Odyssey to Save the Planet, was released in October 2007 by Key Porter Books. His book Save the Humans was released in the Fall of 2012 by Random House.
Stewart worked tirelessly on conservation and environmental education, speaking at the University of Victoria, Yale University, Vancouver Aquarium, ROM, various TEDx events, and others. He served on the board of numerous conservation groups including WildAid, Shark Savers and the Shark Research Institute, and founded his own charity, United Conservationists, based in Los Angeles and Toronto.
Featured appearances on numerous high-profile TV shows included Larry King Live, The Today Show, Tonight Show, The Late Show, Nightline, Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, ET Canada, Bloomberg, The Hour, BBC1, MTV, and many others.
Stewart’s second film, Revolution, also premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and was released worldwide in 2013. This groundbreaking documentary received both critical and audience acclaim and numerous international awards. Revolution was the first film to alert the world to the catastrophic effects of carbon emissions and the resulting Ocean Acidification that would devastate the reefs, kill 25% of the fish populations, and potentially the oceans themselves. Today, this is well known.
Sharkwater Extinction was Stewart’s third film to enjoy a world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, debuting to a standing ovation. It follows his journey to expose the massive illegal shark fin industry and the political corruption behind it, which is leading to the mass extinction of sharks in our oceans. It also unveils the fact that endangered sharks are being added to many of our everyday products, even those intended for human consumption.
In January, 2017, while shooting Sharkwater Extinction, Stewart tragically passed away during a dive off the Florida Keys. The film was finished by a committed group of Stewart’s family and colleagues and went on to screen at over 35 international film festivals around the world, receiving multiple awards and recognitions for Stewart’s body of work, including at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in May 2019.
Sharkwater, Revolution and Sharkwater Extinction have been awarded more than 150 international awards and viewed by over 125 million people.
The PangeaSeed Foundation launched the Dakuwaqa Project, dedicating murals around the world to honor Stewart, highlighting his pioneering efforts in marine conservation. Many young filmmakers have been inspired by Stewart to create environmental films of their own. Numerous film festivals, universities and conservation groups worldwide have created conservation awards in Rob’s honor.
In 2019, the Rob Stewart Sharkwater Foundation was established to honor Stewart’s legacy and continue his mission to save sharks and the world’s oceans.