Celebrating Sharks

Over the years, divers have been seeing fewer and fewer sharks. The decline seemed gradual at first — not everyone noticed — but eventually it became clear that sharks are disappearing at an alarming rate.

Enter Rob Stewart, a young man who revered sharks. He observed:

You are told your whole life that sharks are dangerous. You are warned about venturing too far into the ocean. But then finally you are underwater, and you see the thing you were taught since childhood to fear, and it is perfect, and it doesn't want to hurt you, and it is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen. And your whole world changes.
Stewart not only noticed the decline in shark numbers, he also dedicated his life to documenting and telling the world about it. He released his first film, Sharkwater, in 2007. It effectively focused the world's attention on the shark fishing industry. The film, which showed how the demand for shark-fin soup was threatening shark populations worldwide, generated significant public support for shark conservation. The protection of sharks was thrust into the public consciousness.

"Sharkwater was the first feature film to really catapult the issue of shark conservation into the public sphere," said fellow filmmaker Shawn Heinrichs. "The film reached millions and served to ignite an entire generation of passionate shark activists who would go on to play pivotal roles in the world of shark conservation."

The sentiment was echoed by conservation photojournalist Paul Hilton: "Rob Stewart's movie Sharkwater not only started the conversation about the shark-fin trade but also raised the profile of sharks tenfold and underlined how important they are in the ecosystem that's necessary to sustain all life in the world's oceans."

Stewart's second film, Revolution, released in 2012, sought to advance Sharkwater's message by offering people motivation to seek more environmentally friendly alternatives in their daily lives. The film highlights the disconnect between conservation of the natural world and the goals of corporations and conventional politics.

"Thinking about life and evolution, I couldn't help but marvel at the opportunity ahead of us," Stewart said. "What if we had a vision of the world we wanted to fight for? What kind of a world could we create if we designed it to be beautiful for us and all species?" In the closing scene of Revolution, Stewart states: "I didn't know what to do next, but as long as there is a fight for life, I know what battle I am in. Our side is only getting stronger, and though it may not seem like it yet, the revolution has begun."

Tragically, Stewart died in a dive accident off Islamorada, Fla., in February 2017 while working on his third film, Sharkwater Extinction. Although he is gone, his inspiration and passion lives on in all of us who love the ocean and its creatures. Underwater photographers from all over the globe have united to honor his vision by sharing their images of sharks.

Celebrating Sharks Photo Gallery
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Learn more about Rob Stewart and his work in this tribute video by Pablo Garcia, a Talks at Google interview, and Stewart's TEDx Talk, Sharkwater and Rise Again.

© Alert Diver — Q2 Spring 2017