Re­mem­ber­ing Rob

Village Post - - News - By Ron John­son

Toronto con­ser­va­tion hero Rob Ste­wart’s last film Shark­wa­ter: Ex­tinc­tion gets its world pre­miere on Sept. 7 at TIFF. Ste­wart passed away while div­ing off the Florida Keys, and his friends and fam­ily ral­lied to fin­ish the film. Post City spoke with col­league Julie An­der­sen about Rob, the film and their shared love of sharks. Tell me about the cir­cum­stances around Rob’s pass­ing and the team de­cid­ing to carry on this im­por­tant project.

It was a very tough day and a very tough year and a half, but we had no choice. This is ob­vi­ously what all of us would do nat­u­rally. Rob was such a huge power for all of our lives, and of course los­ing Rob, I don’t think it was even a dis­cus­sion. All of us just banded to­gether with Rob’s par­ents and de­cided we were go­ing to move forward.

What made him so spe­cial?

Ev­ery day I hear of more and more people who have been im­pacted by Rob and are mak­ing changes not just in their lives but for things that they are pas­sion­ate about.That’s re­ally the legacy of Rob. He used to have a say­ing: that you take your pas­sion and you smash it to­gether with your talent, and you live a life of mean­ing and you can bring about great change. It’s not just about sharks. It’s what­ever you’re pas­sion­ate about.

Tell me about your in­tro­duc­tion to sharks.

I was 19 and I was div­ing in Hawaii, and I was by my­self, and I sud­denly felt this pres­ence next to me, and I looked, and arm’s-length next to me was a ham­mer­head shark, lit­er­ally look­ing at me eye to eye, and I locked eyes, and I tell you what, it shifted my world com­pletely. I saw life not death. It made me ques­tion ev­ery­thing I was told. Here was this an­i­mal that was sup­posed to eat me alive, and in­stead it seemed like it was much more afraid of me, and I just be­came in­tox­i­cated by hav­ing ex­pe­ri­ences like that.

When did con­ser­va­tion kick in?

Well I be­came a shark nerd, like Rob, and went around the world try­ing to find sharks and to dive with them. A lot of times what I was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing, more than the sharks them­selves, was what was hap­pen­ing to them. So the shark finning, go­ing to Burma Banks [Myan­mar’s deep-wa­ter home to a large shark pop­u­la­tion] and see­ing the shark fins dry­ing in the sun, and the lights on the il­le­gal shark finning ves­sels come on at night. And it just re­ally tore at me. But it wasn’t un­til I met Rob that I re­al­ized I could do some­thing about it.

So when did you first meet him?

I had an ad­ver­tis­ing agency and had got­ten into the In­ter­net re­ally early, and I was work­ing with com­pa­nies like Porsche and Mercedes, and I just felt a lit­tle bit like the ocean was pulling me. And one day I went to a screen­ing of this lit­tle movie called Shark­wa­ter, and I was ab­so­lutely blown away by this young, amaz­ing guy who de­cided he wasn’t go­ing to take it any­more. And he made this amaz­ing movie. I waited af­ter­wards to meet him, which was totally un­char­ac­ter­is­tic of me. Five days later, I was in Toronto with a notebook full of ideas, and the rest is his­tory. He ba­si­cally in­spired me to get on board with the cause. I sold my house, my busi­ness, my car and changed my life com­pletely to work with Rob Ste­wart.

Wow, that’s a big change.

There was just some­thing very spe­cial about him. He thought he could change the world, and work­ing with him, you felt like it was pos­si­ble.

What does the new film add to the con­ver­sa­tion around sharks?

Rob kind of helped us fall in love with an an­i­mal that most people ma­lign and hate.The new film looks at all the other is­sues fac­ing sharks.The first film looked at shark finning and the fact that 80 mil­lion sharks were dis­ap­pear­ing per year for their fins. This film re­ally looks at what hap­pens to the other 70 mil­lion sharks that are dis­ap­pear­ing and opens our eyes to the fact that we don’t even re­al­ize how many prod­ucts we have in our homes that con­tain sharks.That was a re­ally im­por­tant re­al­iza­tion for Rob.

We do? What kinds of prod­ucts?

It’s crazy, ev­ery­thing from de­odor­ant, lo­tions and lip­sticks all the way to pet foods. Imi­ta­tion crab is of­ten filled with shark. So many dif­fer­ent names for shark that some­times we don’t even know. You got to a fish and chips shop and you’re eat­ing rock salmon. Well guess what, that’s shark too. It’s crazy how ac­ces­si­ble it is to all of us.

Why is it im­por­tant to pro­tect sharks?

Sharks sit atop the food chain and are apex preda­tors. If you re­move them out of the food chain, it has cas­cad­ing ef­fects. What we forget is that sharks have been on this planet for 450 mil­lion years, right? They have sur­vived five ma­jor ex­tinc­tions. They formed our oceans, and oceans are so crit­i­cal for our sur­vival. So it’s re­ally not just about sharks, and it’s not just about our oceans. It’s about us and what we are do­ing to our life-sup­port sys­tems.

Rob Ste­wart, who grew up near Bayview and York Mills; inset: Julie An­der­sen of Shark An­gels

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