February 20, 2017

Five Pivotal Life Lessons from an Ocean Conservationist.

“I thought I had the dream life. I could take pictures of fish and travel the world. It was only when I saw what was happening to the sharks that I realized I couldn’t just sit back and not care. At a certain point you have to take action.” ~ Rob Stewart


Rob Stewart was an award-winning photographer, filmmaker, conservationist and educator.

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Stewart was only 13 years old when he discovered his passion for photographing underwater wildlife.

By 18, he became a scuba diving instructor and began earning his Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Biology at Western University in Ontario, Canada. However, it wasn’t until a trip to the Galapagos Islands shortly before graduation that he discovered illegal longline fishing (a practice that kills many sharks), which prompted him to promote public awareness of these issues through print media.

When the public didn’t respond, he decided to make a film to bring people closer to sharks. At the age of 22, Stewart left his photography career behind and embarked on a remarkable journey that spanned over the course of four years, resulting in the epic documentary, Sharkwater.

While promoting his film, Stewart was challenged with a particularly difficult question:

If scientists are predicting that our oceans will be completely decimated by 2048, what’s the point in saving the sharks?

Stewart knew that he had to address the issue, so he set out to make a second documentary, Revolution. Revolution went beyond the issue of saving the sharks and instead focused on how human beings were going to save themselves. The film won many awards and once again put Stewart back in the spotlight as the spokesperson for the importance of protecting marine life. Tragically, while filming a follow-up documentary to Sharkwater this past January, Stewart lost his life at the age of 37 in a diving accident in Alligator Reef, off the coast of the Florida Keys.

Rob Stewart was a true inspiration and an undeniable hero to many people throughout the world. Over the past 10 years, he was not only a significant figure in my own life but also the lives of my young students. I was devastated when I heard of Rob’s passing, but my goal is to hold onto his guiding presence as I work to preserve his legacy, as both an educator and an activist.

In addition to imparting knowledge about the importance of the preservation of marine life and ocean conservation, he also brought to light for me many overarching life lessons, five of which are at the forefront of my everyday life:

1. Embrace your Passions.

Rob never did anything half-heartedly. He attacked his passions with nothing less than 100 percent effort, without apologies, explanations or adherence to rules. He recognized his passion for wildlife at a young age and knew that he needed to do everything in his power to protect it, even if it meant risking his life. From him, I have learned the importance of taking some much-needed time to find my “thing,” whether it’s environmental activism, travelling or photography, and to commit to it fully, without any reservations.

2. Live with Compassion.

Rob taught me to approach every situation with compassion and to take responsibility for the current state of the world. We have the tendency to think that environmental issues are “someone else’s problem” and others “will take care of it.” Rob has taught me that the concerns we are facing are my problem and your problem—we are all in this together. I also admired how Rob always took time out of his busy schedule to discuss environmental concerns with younger generations because he knew that they were the key to the future of humankind. He has taught me to do the same with my students.

3. Fight for Your Beliefs.

Rob was a strong proponent for ocean conservation. He participated in protests and marched in demonstrations all over the world while educating the masses through his documentaries and fundraising campaigns. He made a lot of noise over the past decade and made sure that people listened. He taught me the importance of stepping out of the shadows, fighting for what I believe in and to stop at nothing until my voice is heard.

4. Find Your Purpose.

I believe that my true purpose in this life is to take the gift or talent that I’ve been given and to share it with the rest of humanity. From a young age, there was no doubt that Rob knew what his purpose was—to change our perspective about typically-feared underwater creatures, to educate us about the importance of preserving underwater life and to speak up for those who are unable to. He had the gift and talent of opening our eyes to the realities of the world in which we live, while also giving us strategies to overcome our problems. Rob taught me the importance of discovering what I am meant to do in this life and to persist in my endeavors until I succeed.

5. Be Genuine.

Throughout his short career, Rob stayed true to who he was. Although he frequently found himself in the spotlight, he never wavered when the cameras were on him—he remained his confident, yet truly humble self, who was appreciative of anyone who would give him the time of day to share his passions. He taught me to remain true to my nature, treat others with high regard (despite differing opinions), and maintain connections with people in the hopes of leaving a resounding impression.

Rob Stewart lived for ocean conversation and, sadly, he died for it too.

He knew the risks involved in his work, yet he was committed to being a true warrior for our planet. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to be in his presence on several occasions and to be inspired by such a passionate, compassionate and down-right magnificent human being.

It is my personal goal to make certain that his message and legacy lives on through public awareness, fundraising events and educational programming for younger generations. He may be gone but he certainly will never be forgotten.

“There is simply no issue more important. Conservation is the preservation of human life on earth, and that, above all else, is worth fighting for.” ~ Rob Stewart, Sharkwater


Author: Michelle Pomeroy

Image: Vimeo

Editor: Catherine Monkman

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Ashley Carrithers Feb 22, 2017 8:03pm

Hello Michelle, I have a proposal for your consideration - hope it is somewhat appropriate for this commentary window.... I am writing to you with a proposal that you consider a rather unique writing project. I live in the Argentine Patagonia on my 100,000 acre estancia in the cordillera of the mighty Andes mountains, amid deep and magical Nature – see www.ranquilco.com. Hence this mail from afar, where communications are happily a bit limited. An Amazon best selling author approached me a few months ago, proposing that he write the story of my life – my memoires. I tentatively agreed with the proviso that there be a solid focus on my environmental, Earth rescue, efforts. Misfortune has recently befallen him resulting in this mission, and why I am approaching you – to find another voice to tell the story. Of course ego issues intrude rather immediately, which I am able to cast aside now that I am older and now that Earth rescue becomes more and more imperative. I like what I have seen of your writing in the Elephant Journal, and thus approach you as a possible co-author. Here I will briefly outline the basics for your consideration. So the working title is “The Best Life Ever Lived”. Egotistical of course, but really in essence more of a celebration, and more of a sharing of how to thoroughly enjoy the creation, and then the focus – doing all we can to confront the murderous consumptive behavior, mostly in the First World, as our poisonous footprints are bringing down precious and precarious eco systems, while extincting innocent species on a daily basis. And I HAVE enjoyed a most miraculous life, rife with love, happiness, health, adventure, privilege, fun, challenge, evolution, enlightenment, and enjoyment. Along the way, some quick bullet points; mid-west happy childhood, prep school, Duke University (degree in psychology), drafted into the Vietnam War, escape, flew my airplane to California, founded alternate school/”hippie” commune, two years sailing in the Caribbean living off free diving catch of lobster and grouper, meeting and marrying America’s first billionaire wife, founding Island foundation and Island Press (largest environmental press in the world), launching silicone valley businesses, ranches and lands and islands, near death experiences, ending up safe, sound, sane and celebrative on my estancia. My books (6) are available at www.warpplace.com, blog at www.thepatagonianprovocateur.com, and my 501-c-3 (Colorado) non profit organization (JAG) is shared at www.jagauarambassadorsgang.org. This is the crux of my desire now to have the story told – to gather traction and impetus for the offerings and movements developed there. I have all manner of writings to share, from narrative books to poems to discourses, so the writing would be an edited compilation, but with plenty of your interpretation, with the focus on the movements at JAG, while sharing the best life ever lived, ha. Stories galore! As a possible part and parcel of this opportunity if we go forward and then decide to jointly pull the old trigger, you could come down to these magical lands where inspiration whispers in bird call, river purl, and ribald dreams, while sometimes also roaring with Patagonia winds of exciting import. If interested, please come back with a personal letter so that I can begin to assess the appropriateness of joining pens to get this out there. Please study the movements presented at JAG and see if they resonate. I am looking for a creative, outside the box, expressive co-author – one who shares a passion for doing something to turn the deadly tide of Earth murder, and one who can join the vision to produce a mighty work of not only adventure and fun, but of sincere and motivating import. The Amazon best selling author had shown the prospectus to his agent who expressed keen interest and excitement, claiming that it would be an instant best seller. Again, personally I do not seek, or even want, fame – but I do want to give wings to the movements as I believe in them, radical as they may be… these times call for extreme measures if our grandchildren are to ever live on a planet with whales and such. This opportunity has rather unlimited potential to make a viral buzz that could long reverberate and truly be the catalyst for Change, so necessarily mandated on the planet. Along with a solid backlist of books, there are screenplays for two major movies – revolutionary in their own right. OK, backing up a tad for a reality check; maybe nothing will come of the various movements/plans/hopes/dreams…guesses – but the Story is there, and it is all encompassing and well worth the telling. If not interested, or not able, please let me know – and, of course if intrigued and turned on, come back with any questions or concerns. Blessings, Ashley Ashley Kent Carrithers – please respond; [email protected]

Erika Anne Feb 20, 2017 10:16pm

Thank you for this article! Such a sad and untimely death. Rob was a true hero for our oceans and its inhabitants.

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Michelle Pomeroy

Michelle Pomeroy graduated from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto with a Master of Arts in Child Study and Education with a focus on Special Education. For the past 10 years, she has worked with children and teens in a variety of settings, including high schools, elementary schools, camps and respite centers. In her spare time, Michelle can be found travelling to various parts of the world, improvising on small stages and photographing various regions of Vancouver. She is active in the realm of ocean conservation and hopes to bring more awareness to the issues surrounding it.