The secret weapon against climate change isn’t in Fast Company or on Nasdaq

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It’s in our oceans. Sharks hold the key to surviving climate change — and if we can help them thrive, we might stand a chance too.

It was a family vacation to the Caribbean that sparked a movement. Here a young Robbie Stewart saw life in the ocean for the first time. To an animal-loving kid growing up in Toronto, the ocean was a new vast treasure filled with amazing creatures and ready to be explored. As Rob grew, so did wonder and his love for the oceans and the life in it, especially sharks.

I met my first shark when I was 9. I saw the shark out of the corner of my eye and it swam in my direction. The second it made eye contact with me it freaked out and swam the other direction. For me that whole experience removed all the fear I had of sharks in the ocean and allowed me to go and explore even further and fall deeper in love.”

His passion and a sense of adventure sent him on a path into adulthood and led him to create the documentary films Sharkwater, Revolution, Sharkwater Extinction, shining a light on the brutal practice of shark finning, illegal fishing and climate change. His films brought the issue of shark finning and ocean conservation to the world, changing laws, public policy and public opinion. 135 million people have seen his films. After Rob was tragically killed in a dive accident in 2017, we dedicated our lives to continuing Rob’s mission of saving sharks and the oceans. Through the Rob Stewart Sharkwater Foundation and United Conservationists, we share the engaging footage Rob captured to celebrate the ocean and raise awareness about the importance of sharks.

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Today, we think of Rob as a #ClimateShark. Because sharks have an important role in combating climate change.

Rob was devastated after a trip to the Galapagos when he was still a teenager, filming thousands of sharks dying on long lines. Sharks were being hunted for shark fin soup, a delicacy in Asia. No one knew this or had seen this before and his footage made headlines. We were heartbroken with him. He wanted to save sharks. When he learned that all fisheries could collapse by 2048, he recognized the challenge was much greater than just saving sharks. Rob shifted the focus of the documentary Revolution to Ocean Acidification to show how humans need healthy oceans and sharks keep oceans healthy — sharks help mitigate the effects of ocean acidification.

From its seagrass, to mangroves, to kelp forests, the oceans provide earth with 60–70% of the oxygen we breathe.

Our oceans, when healthy, do a great job of sequestering carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. But as humans continue to consume more and more, we place more strain on our natural systems. Oceans absorb our carbon, and we’ve already made them 30% more acidic, inhibiting their ability to keep filtering out our CO2 — — reefs, shellfish and anything that builds a skeleton won’t survive. Yet sharks continue to play a vital role in keeping our oceans healthy.

Sharks are a keystone species that play a big role in their ecosystem. For 450 million years sharks have ensured that fish and animal populations below them remain diverse and balanced. As apex predators, sharks thin the numbers of plant-eating fish, in turn safeguarding corals, algae and phytoplankton from overgrazing. Sharks also consume weak, sick and dying fish, as well as the carcasses of dead fish on the ocean floor. This prevents the spread of disease throughout the environment and helps to regulate the overall population. Sharks are truly the caretakers and custodians of our oceans. We need sharks as crucial players in the fight against climate change.

Sharks are not the man-eating monsters you see in films but the Jaws perception makes it hard to rally support for these beautiful animals.

My goal was to make people fall in love with sharks and for that people need to see a little bit of their softer side, a little bit of their intelligence, maybe see a little bit of themselves in the shark…” Rob wanted people to see the beauty of sharks, so they would learn to love them and work to protect them.

Rob’s work made us see sharks in a new light, and brought awareness to the issues sharks are facing around the globe. As highlighted in Rob’s film Sharkwater, people continue to kill sharks for things like shark fin soup, shark meat and even cosmetics like lipstick and lotion. In the past 50 years, people have decimated shark populations by 70%. If this trend continues, we’ll lose these creatures and the ecosystems sharks maintain.

“I think everyone changes the world, it’s just how much, how big, and in what direction.”

Everyday actions we take make it possible for us to play the role of #ClimateShark and make a difference for climate, oceans and sharks. Check the ingredients on food and cosmetics and avoid ones that include shark products like squalene in cosmetics, flake in fish & chips. Avoid single-use plastic and recycle the plastic you do use to keep it out of the ocean to curb the issues stemming from plastic pollution in oceans and global climate change. Join coastal cleanups and use your voice to speak on behalf of healthy oceans. Vote for legislators that support the environment. All these actions, along with your votes and advocacy, can ensure we protect our planet.

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Rob always believed in the power of people and their ability to bring about change. Our family honors him and his work by sustaining his optimistic, yet realistic view of how we can bring about change today. One person can make a difference. Join us so the small steps we each take can, together, make the big difference we need.

“Conservation is the preservation of human life of earth, and that above all else is worth fighting for.”

Find out more about the #ClimateShark campaign and join us to help save sharks and our oceans. This link will direct users offsite outside of Medium.

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Rob Stewart Sharkwater Foundation

At the Rob Stewart Sharkwater Foundation, it is our goal to inspire others to live their own dreams and make a difference by protecting sharks and our oceans.