By Mata Press Service
Canadian filmmaker Rob Stewart died the way he lived – giving voice to sharks, the planet’s most misunderstood creature.
This week, he will be buried near his hometown of Toronto, leaving behind a legacy that has taught the world more about sharks than anyone else in the world.
For Stewart, it was love at first shark when he met one as a kid in his favourite playground, the ocean.
“Instead of coming up and eating me, this shark was actually afraid of me,” he would say later at one of his public speaking engagements.
That encounter emboldened an already growing enthusiasm about the underwater apex predator, that led Stewart to the Galapagos where the hammerheads, one of 440 species of sharks, schooled.
Here in 2000, he witnessed finning in an unprecedented scale where sharks were being baited by 16,000 hooks on 100 km of fishing lines.
Shocked into action, Stewart began his journey to educate the world about sharks and save them from Asian soup pots.
At that time there were about six countries which had banned shark fin soup. Today it is close to 100.
“His passion for sharks and protecting the seas was astounding,” said Madu Dhasanayaka, a senior compounder with Lush Cosmetics in Vancouver, who will be heading to Toronto this week to say goodbye to his friend and idol.
Stewart was born in 1979, in Toronto, Ontario and went on to work as chief photographer for the Canadian Wildlife Federation's magazines and as a freelance journalist.
He was best known for making and directing the documentary films Sharkwater and Revolution. He died at the age of 37 in a scuba diving incident while in Florida filming Sharkwater: Extinction.
Much has been written about his conservation efforts, his books, films and awards.
But mostly Stewart will be remembered for his unbridled passion for a singular subject that stoked the fires of conservation in many.
“He taught me that to start saving something, you save everything around it,” said Dhasanayaka, whose employer Lush Cosmetics partnered with Stewart’s NGO Fin Free to create a global campaign that allowed citizens to take a stand for sharks in their own communities
The sale of Lush’s limited edition of Shark Fin Soap raised hundreds of thousands of dollars helping Stewart’s documentaries reach some 30 million viewers.
Others motivated by Stewart’s unrelenting drive in Western Canada include Margaret McCullough and Jen Harvey, founders of Fin Free Victoria.
After meeting Stewart in February of 2012, the duo spent the next five years visiting restaurants on Vancouver Island and in the Lower Mainland, asking them to stop selling shark fin, collecting thousands of petition signatures and educating everyone they met about the issue.
Also prompted by Stewart were Claudia Li and Kevin Huang who co-founded the Hua Foundation that started “Our Shark Truth” program to promote sustainable seafood and Shark Fin Free banquets.
“Our hearts are broken at the tragic death of Stewart who touched the lives of so many people,” said Dhasanayaka.
“But the world must always remember Stewart for the way he lived, not so much for the way he died,” he said.
To find out more about Rob Stewart’s efforts to save sharks go to www.finfree.org