Rob was a biologist, conservationist, activist and filmmaker. His greatest impact was through his three films: Sharkwater, Revolution & Sharkwater Extinction.
Dedicated to his cause, Rob never stopped working to inspire change, and authored two books — Sharkwater: An Odyssey to Save the Planet and Save the Humans. His work has influenced and motivated millions to carry on his mission worldwide.
Born in 1979 in Toronto, Rob graduated from Western University. He dedicated his life to conservation, saying:
“Conservation is the preservation of human life on earth. And that, above all else is worth fighting for.”
Rob was the first to bring the devastating issue of shark finning for shark fin soup to the world stage. Sharkwater changed laws and public policy throughout the world and created hundreds of shark conservation groups.
Many countries have since banned shark finning. Airlines, hotels, courier services and theme parks have banned shark fins. The Chinese government has banned shark fin soup at their banquets.
He taught the world to love and to not fear sharks through his diving and pictures of hugging sharks. Diving with sharks is now commonplace — the image of Rob hugging a shark is now iconic.
Rob changed documentary filmmaking from talking-head films to "action adventure" documentaries, which many filmmakers have now adopted.
When Rob made Sharkwater, he wanted to show viewers the beauty of sharks, the oceans and its creatures, so people would love and work to protect them.
But he also wanted to show the devastation, so they would understand the issues and could make better choices.
Revolution was the first feature film to alert the world to the catastrophic effects of Ocean Acidification from carbon emissions (burning fossil fuels; coal, oil, gas, deforestation).
Climate change was well known, but not 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.
His third film, Sharkwater Extinction, premiered to a standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2018, then began a global theatrical release.
It has been featured at over 60 international film festivals around the world and is now available worldwide on Amazon Prime, Prime Video and Crave TV in Canada as well as platforms such as iTunes, etc.
This follow-up film addresses not just shark finning, but the use of shark products in cosmetics, food products, pet foods, livestock and fertilizer.
Awards in his name include:
The Academy of Canadian Cinema launched the Rob Stewart Award, a five-year $25,000-per-year award.
Discovery’s Planet in Focus launched the annual Rob Stewart Youth Eco-Hero Award; the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival offers the Rob Stewart Environment Award, and Oakville initiated a $75,000 bursary to support students studying marine biology at Dalhousie.
The PangeaSeed Foundation, whose Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans murals around the world highlight some of the most pressing marine environmental issues of our time, launched the “Dakuwaqa Project,” dedicating murals to Rob and highlighting his pioneering efforts in the realm of marine conservation.
In Fijian mythology, Dakuwaqa (pronounced Dakuwanga), the shark god, is the protector of all ocean creatures. To date, artists have created murals in Miami,Toronto, Auckland (NZ), Cairns (Australia) and Bali (Indonesia). Additional murals will continue to be installed globally to ensure Rob’s legacy continues to live and grow.
In December 2018, a new species of shark was discovered and named for Rob — Bythaelurus Stewarti.
In 2019, the Rob Stewart Sharkwater Foundation was established to honour his legacy and continue his mission to save sharks and the world’s oceans.
As of 2019, Canada banned the import and export of shark fin. Canada was the largest importer of shark fins outside of Asia.
In November 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, which would prohibit the sales of shark fins, and the bill has moved on to a vote in the Senate.
CITES voted to protect Makos in 2019, as well as 18 species of rays and sharks by adding them to their endangered list.
In January 2020, New Jersey became the latest state to sign a law banning shark fins. More than 85 countries have banned shark finning, and the U.S. has banned the sales of shark fin in a total of 17 states and territories.
“A rare gift to the oceans and the world. There was no one like Rob and his loss is profound. He has inspired a whole generation of young people, many of whom will go on and amplify Rob's work. I've always said, no movement should be utterly dependent on one or two individuals, but of course it takes one or two charismatic individuals to start a movement in the first place, and Rob was it.”
“We should be thankful that in our little galaxy of stars that our life is and our friends are, that we had a sun like Rob at the centre of it. We lost a son, a brother, a mentor.”
“Rob and his work is in the curriculum of my course. I believe Rob did more for making shark conservation important than any scientist to date.”
“I have a new hero, and his name is Rob Stewart. Rob has forever changed the way people view sharks and the ocean, it will open their eyes...and, hopefully, their hearts.”
“Saddened by the passing of Rob Stewart. The world has lost a man who dedicated his life to protecting our oceans and sharks. He'll be missed.”
“We are now offering a shark class at Dalhousie (since 2013) and it is always oversubscribed by at least 5 times the enrolment limit. I have more students than I can count come to my office saying they want to study marine biology because they saw Sharkwater. A whole generation has been affected.”
“I don't think there's a film that's influenced me more than Sharkwater.” Richard loved Sharkwater, and it caused him to launch the “Ocean Elders” to protect the oceans. He remains an ardent advocate and supporter of ocean conservation. After seeing Sharkwater and meeting Rob, Rob taught him to dive.
“Bill S-238 (Shark Fin Importation Ban) was inspired by Rob’s work. His award-winning documentary Sharkwater is largely responsible for shedding light on the detrimental effects shark finning is having on the species. Rob committed his life to educating the public about the true nature of and importance of our oceans ecosystems.”
“Rob is such a hero and inspiration.”
“The Sharks lost a guardian and the oceans lost a voice. He helped open our eyes to the deep blue world he loved. #RobStewart #sharkwater”