Elegy for an Eco-Warrior

Film Review

Elegy for an Eco-Warrior

Sharkwater Extinction directed by Rob Stewart

0219 sharkwater main

Appeared in DIVER February 2019

it was never going to be an easy watch. As with Rob Stewart’s original award-winning film Sharkwater (2006), shark-finning is at the heart of this new documentary, and watching the cruel mistreatment of sharks is not something any diver relishes.

Yet with Sharkwater and his second film Revolution (2012) having been seen by a claimed 125 million people, the Canadian film-maker did raise awareness. The fact that he is no longer alive is alleviated only by the fact that he remains with us on film.

That’s the other factor that makes Sharkwater Extinction harrowing – it builds up to the 37-year-old’s final dive, on a rebreather off the Florida Keys, gone to look for sawfish at 70m for the third time in a day.

It was a senseless death, the subject of ongoing legal action, and to see the always-sunny Stewart kitting up for the last time is immeasurably sad, as the camera dwells lovingly on every gauge and bolt-snap.

Stewart’s mother Sandy Campbell attended the London premiere and explained that her son always believed conservation should be cool and that, to become fully engaged, people should have fun doing it. “Rob would want everyone to continue the mission,” she said.

To that end she and husband Brian read their son’s many notebooks and achieved the tricky feat of hacking into his iPad to extract detailed plans of how he wanted the 400 hours of footage shot for this film to be deployed. The result is impressive.

The final section was not one Stewart had planned, of course. At one point in voiceover he says: “I tell my parents I believe I’m going to be OK.

I know exactly how I’m going to die; when I’m going to die.” Maybe not.

Several things surprised me about the film, one being the assertion that 150 million sharks are being killed every year – more than twice the figure we seem to have settled on in recent years.

I asked Sandy about this after watching the film, and she told me the belief was that far more small and juvenile sharks are now being taken illegally, not for their fins but to be sold under the label “ocean white fish”.

This reflects another surprising sequence in the film, as Rob and his team wander around Miami and find shark being served openly in shops and restaurants.

They buy a range of products in supermarkets, have them tested and find shark meat or oil, packed with mercury, lead and neuro-toxins, bulking up livestock and pet food and used in cosmetics. “We’re smearing super-predators on our faces,” observes Stewart in wonder.

Shark-finning is big business; organised crime takes its cut and Stewart repeatedly takes chances on his travels. He confronts the slippery president of Costa Rica about reneging on his pledges. “Shark Girl” Madison Stewart (no relation) films a hammerhead being caught by sport anglers, and is reduced to tears as the skipper admits to Rob that when the sharks are returned to the water they do “tend to die”.

He inspects a haul of nearly 40,000 fins in Panama, a major hammerhad nursery area, and films a Japanese crew amassing blue sharks off Cape Verde. “Ninety countries have banned finning, but not the importation of fins – it’s a massive loophole,” he says.

0219 sharkwater filmingOff Los Angeles he films threshers and blue sharks being gill-netted and the fishermen open fire on his boat while he’s still in the water. But we’re cheered when we’re told later that the footage helped California move towards banning drift-nets.

“I had developed a distrust and dislike of humanity – but filming made me love humanity more,” says Stewart who, despite the mounting misery, never seemed to give up hope.

Not too many eco-docs get a royal premiere and cinema release. This is a film that all divers should watch, if only because Rob Stewart was a voracious diver, an exceptional film-maker and a conservation hero.

But of course, even better would be if those governments that fail to curb and even encourage the carnage watched the film and took notice.

Sharkwater Pictures
128min, in UK cinemas 22 March. See the trailer here.

Review by Steve Weinman


Get a weekly roundup of all Divernet news and articles 🤿

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Related Divernet Posts

Diver Magazine Relaunch

Diver magazine needs YOU!

Are you still lamenting the demise of Diver magazine? Well now you can help resurrect an icon as we seek to bring back the magazine

Turtles of Raja Ampat

Turtles of Raja Ampat

The Raja Ampat Creature Feature Series: Turtles Raja Ampat is the perfect diving location to find four of the seven ocean turtle species of the

manta ray and diver over reef in Komodo

Divers pitch into Komodo manta probe

Manta rays choose to stick around Indonesia’s Komodo National Park in unusually large numbers – and, according to a new diver-led study, this community could

female diver holding pair of Fourth Element Tech fins

Tech fins inspired by humpback whales

Whales provided the inspiration for optimising efficiency in Fourth Element’s latest fins, according to the Cornwall-based manufacturer. The “turbulence disruptors” on top of the blades

Last Breath portrait of Woody Harrelson

Woody dives into Last Breath remake

A new version of the British documentary-thriller that captured the imaginations of divers in 2019 is about to be previewed at the Cannes Film Festival.

Follow Divernet on Social Media