The tragic death of Rob Stewart is a timely reminder that we are all on borrowed time on this earth. It is always a shame to see someone so young pass away, but doubly so when you consider the huge achievements of Rob, and the ambitious plans he held for the future.
In many ways Rob put sharks on the map. His movie Sharkwater was the first to really highlight the tragic plight of sharks, and convinced many people, myself included, to get involved in marine conservation. He took on a hard target at the time – Jaws and other sensationalist movies had done much to malign sharks. It is easy getting people to love Pandas. – Convincing public to embrace animals like Sharks is much more challenging. Never the less he managed it.
I first met Rob in Los Angeles shortly after I got out of prison in Japan. I was a bit of a mess mentally at the time, and was contemplating just going back to a normal job. Conservation had become too complicated for me.
Rob confided that he’d once gone through a similar loss of passion, but had bounced back. “Find your niche”, he had said to me at the time. “Find an area of Marine Conservation you can work in and own it.” He signed a copy of his book Sharkwater for me and we kept in touch over the years. Rob was right of course. Marine Conservation was in my blood by then, and thanks to him and others, I managed to remain in conservation and contribute in my own way.
When news he was missing broke, we all held out hope he was OK. But when details emerged of what had transpired, his survival seemed unlikely. He was completing his third dive of the day to a depth of 70m – Challenging conditions for even the most experienced of technical divers.
When the team of 3 surfaced, one had gone temporarily unconscious. He was successfully recovered into the chase boat, which then turned to pick up Rob. Sadly he was no longer on the surface. Conditions, while at night, were otherwise perfect. The team tried desperately to find him but to no avail. A massive search and rescue effort was mounted, and USCG recovered the body not far from where he originally went missing at a depth of 220ft.
People like Rob are rare –They take significant risks in fighting passionately for what they believe in. These people are the ones who make the world a better place. The very qualities that allow them to achieve such amazing results however can also be their undoing. The life of a driven Conservationist can be a risky endeavor.
The tragic loss of Rob will affect many people. His family and friends must be heartbroken. Also the team he was working with will be devastated, and I can only imagine what they are going through. Our thoughts go out to all these people.
Rob has left a legacy. Sharkwater was a watershed movie in conservation. His movie Revolution, while not as successful as Sharkwater, was still outstanding, and encouraged many of us to question what we do. I’m not sure what’s going to happen with Sharkwater: Extinction, but we can only hope his team will be able to complete Rob’s vision. Certainly many Conservationists, myself included, would be willing to help in anyway we can.
RIP Rob Stewart.