Sarika Cullis-Suzuki hon­ours Rob Ste­wart

A rare gift to the oceans and the world

North York Post - - Contents -

This piece was writ­ten by Sarika Cullis-Suzuki on be­half of the Cullis-Suzuki fam­ily and the David Suzuki Foun­da­tion.

Along with peo­ple in Canada and around the world, I am heart­bro­ken at the loss of Rob Ste­wart, in a div­ing ac­ci­dent in Jan­uary. There was no one like Rob, and the loss is pro­found. Those of us who were priv­i­leged to know him will never for­get his pas­sion and his mag­netism. Rob drew you in. He was one of the truest and most in­flu­en­tial ad­vo­cates for the oceans.

Most peo­ple have heard of Rob be­cause of Shark­wa­ter, his epic doc­u­men­tary that shone a spot­light on shark finning and the global de­cline of sharks. Not ex­actly a “sexy” topic. Yet Rob broke it down and drew us in. What struck me most about Shark­wa­ter was its beauty. I wit­nessed, over and over, how peo­ple who had never swum in the ocean be­fore or who couldn’t have cared less about fish sud­denly felt called to ac­tion, felt com­pelled, as if the cause were now im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore. And many of them did — sup­port­ing ocean ini­tia­tives, in­creas­ing seafood aware­ness, show­ing Shark­wa­ter in class­rooms. Some even formed NGOs.

Shark­wa­ter con­trib­uted to mount­ing in­ter­na­tional pub­lic pres­sure to ban shark finning and pro­tect sharks, re­sult­ing in changes to pol­icy and law in numerous coun­tries and on the in­ter­na­tional scale, as well as in mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties across On­tario, Rob’s home prov­ince.

While Shark­wa­ter will likely be what Rob is re­mem­bered for, I was even more im­pressed with his next film, Rev­o­lu­tion. Rob re­al­ized that in or­der to ad­dress the oceans and ul­ti­mately sharks, we had to ad­dress what’s up­stream: us. And Rob knew that true un­der­stand­ing must hap­pen with the heart.

Ten years af­ter its re­lease, peo­ple still re­mem­ber Shark­wa­ter and talk about it with en­ergy and emo­tion. Rob did some­thing most en­vi­ron­men­tal films — and dare I say, the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment — fail to do: in­spire us. He did what stats and data can­not: he showed us the beauty.

The last time I com­mu­ni­cated with Rob was through email in De­cem­ber. I’d reached out to him as I some­times did just to check in and see what he was up to. But the pur­pose of my last email was re­ally be­cause I was dis­heart­ened. I wanted to know how he kept go­ing, kept be­ing hope­ful. Af­ter all, the oceans were still a mess, the world was still get­ting hot­ter, and now things had just be­come a whole lot more com­pli­cated with the re­cent U.S. election. I was down.

As he al­ways did, with whomever he met, Rob drew me back in. He ex­plained why we had to fo­cus on the world we want rather than the bat­tles we fight, be­cause that is what will bring us to­gether, in­stead of di­vid­ing us. Once again he pointed to the beauty in the world and the ex­cite­ment in our pur­pose. And of course, he shared his lat­est, am­bi­tious projects.

From the last line of the last email he ever wrote me: “Don’t feel dis­il­lu­sioned! The chal­lenge is call­ing the best in us.” May this be a call to all of us who are still priv­i­leged to live in this world: Let’s see Earth’s beauty and give back to it, a priv­i­lege Rob never took for granted. Rob forged the lead. Let’s live up to his enor­mous spirit.

Ste­wart was known for his doc­u­men­tary ‘Shark­wa­ter’

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