The search for Toronto filmmaker and conservationist Rob Stewart continues after he went missing Tuesday night during a dive off the Florida Keys on Tuesday night.
Stewart, 37, vanished while diving near Islamorada in the Florida Keys, a chain of islands between the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, located nearly 200 kilometres off the state’s southern tip.
The U.S. Coast Guard Southeast tweeted Wednesday evening that officials with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and Monroe County Sheriff’s Office are helping with the search. A U.S. navy helicopter is also involved.
Earlier Wednesday, a dive team with the Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department was also helping look for Stewart.
A GoFundMe campaign launched by his family to mobilize more resources has raised more than $93,000 as of Thursday morning.
Stewart is perhaps best known for his 2006 documentary Sharkwater, an examination of global shark hunting and its impact on the ocean ecosystem, and was active in underwater filming.
His sister, Alexandra Stewart, told CBC Toronto that his latest dive was part of work on the film’s upcoming sequel, Sharkwater: Extinction.
Jeremy Weaver, senior chief of the U.S. Coast Guard, said Stewart was “diving on a wreck off of Islamorada” with three other divers when he went missing, but the three others are safe.
Not clear why Stewart disappeared
Stewart “resurfaced at the end of the dive, and as the boat was turning around to pick him up, he went back under — and was not seen again,” Weaver said.
It’s not immediately clear what caused Stewart to go back under water, but his sister said it was a “particularly difficult” dive, going to a depth of nearly 70 metres.
She said her brother may have lost consciousness after doing a third dive that day.
“It’s extremely rare that even experienced divers are qualified to do that kind of dive,” Stewart’s sister said.
“The other fellow who was on the same final dive appears to have lost consciousness when he surfaced, so it might have been too much diving in a certain window. It’s hard to speculate.”
Weaver said weather conditions were good at the time of the dive.
Michael Parfit, an environmental writer and filmmaker based in Vancouver, said Stewart routinely takes risks while diving because he has been “so driven to know these animals and transmit what he knows to the public.”
A deep dive comes with potential dangers, said Parfit, but it’s “nothing unusual.”
Stewart’s sister, who is currently in Toronto, said the siblings’ parents and her husband are in Florida and in constant contact with search teams.
“If there are other people out there, what we desperately need are more surface searchers,” she said.
Stewart’s films have won dozens of awards
Sharkwater premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and has since won more than 40 awards at film festivals around the world.
Stewart’s second film, Revolution, was the highest-grossing Canadian documentary in 2013 and won 19 awards from global film festivals.
Stewart was born and raised in Toronto, and studied biology at Western University in London, Ont.
He is also considered one of the “distinguished alumni” of Toronto’s Crescent School, which he attended from grades 7 to 9, and where he has since returned to speak to students about his work in marine conservation.
“Our thoughts are with Rob’s family and we share their hope for his safe return,” the school said in a statement.