Rob Stewart meant many things to many different people. He was a son, a brother, a friend and an idol. I think everyone who was privileged enough to know him can confidently say that he affected their life in the most positive of ways. Even those who didn’t get to know him personally were positively changed by his films Sharkwater and Revolution. And because of him the world will never be the same. He opened the public’s eyes to the realities surrounding illegal shark fishing, and the wasteful practices of finning and bycatch. He became one of the biggest advocates for one of the planet’s most misunderstood animal. He gave sharks a voice.
It still doesn’t feel real that someone like him, with his energy and drive could be gone. I feel like I just talked to him. Only a week prior to his disappearance he was telling me how excited he was to be in Florida; to continue working on newest Sharkwater film.
I am writing this today, not because I knew Rob well, but because I was privileged to be welcomed into his life full of passion and determination, if only for a short period of time, and he will never know how much that truly meant to me.
As far back as I can remember I’ve been obsessed with sharks. As a child I loved all things ocean-related but sharks were of particular interest to me. I don’t think I ever quite understood how such an amazing animal could be feared to such an extent. In 2006, when I was 13 years old, Rob released his first film, Sharkwater. A revolutionary film exposing the wasteful realities of long-lining and trawling, and allowing people to see sharks for what they truly are; graceful and beautiful; evolutionary perfection. Because of him the world began to see sharks in a different light. The world began to see sharks as I have always seen them. It was because of him my path toward a degree in Marine Biology to pursue shark conservation was solidified. That day he became my hero and my idol. And if you had went back and told 13-year-old me that Rob would one day sit and listen to all of her goals and dreams over a bowl of icecream and a glass of wine she would never believe it.
I had met Rob once before this moment, briefly after he premiered is documentary, Revolution at Dalhousie University. But in June of 2015 Rob had come to St. Maarten, my island home at the time, for a conference being held there. Although I wasn’t officially supposed to be at that conference I wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to socialize with other people sharing my interest in all things shark, and learn more about current conservation efforts. And of course Rob felt the same way, with the same passions and motivation bringing him to that conference that night, too. He was, in every way, shape and form, a true ocean advocate. Everything he did, he did with a purpose. We spent that night chatting between the tireless phone-calls being made in an effort to organize funding for his newest movie; working endlessly to expose makeup and food industries using shark in their products. Even the little things he did he did in an effort to make this world a better place. When we’d order drinks he’d always ask for no straw. Something so small, but in a world where our oceans are collecting plastics at an alarming rate it is small acts like this that we ALL need to think about. And that small act really stuck with me. It was second nature for him to think about our planet first, even with something seemingly so insignificant to so many people. But imagine the change we could make on this planet if we all just stopped using plastic straws? To wildify this planet was a change he envisioned and strove for.
I don’t think I quite realized at the time how much that night and the next would change me. When we talked he listened to my goals and my ideas to spread shark awareness and conservation. And as the conversation moved forward he challenged my ideas, forcing me to think bigger and deeper. Without fully knowing it at the time he helped shape the path I’m on now. I can confidently say I would not be the same person today if I hadn’t met him that night.
We kept in touch after those two nights, with Rob believing in me enough to help out with research for his newest movie. I’m 100% sure this was a much bigger deal to me than it was to him, but he taught me to have confidence in what I’m working toward; to latch on to what I’m talented at and use it to help make a positive impact. By believing in me he helped me to believe in myself. And although our friendship was brief, it was memorable; an impact I’m sure he had on everyone who got to know him. Rob, the world is a better place for having had you in it, and your spirit will live on through all of us you affected. Rest in paradise you sweet shark angel.