Sarika Cullis-Suzuki honours Rob Stewart
Environmentalist and filmmaker a rare gift to the oceans and the world
This piece was written by Sarika Cullis-Suzuki on behalf of the CullisSuzuki 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.
Although 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’