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Search continues for Toronto filmmaker who disappeared in Florida waters

Last Updated Feb 3, 2017 at 6:04 am EST

A Canadian filmmaker has disappeared after a deep dive in Florida waters that left his fellow diver unconscious, according to the missing man’s sister.

Rob Stewart, 37, was in Florida filming a documentary called “Sharkwater: Extinction” when the incident happened, his sister, Alexandra Stewart, said Wednesday.

She said Rob Stewart and a dive instructor returned to the surface near Alligator Reef off the coast of the Florida Keys around 5 p.m. Tuesday.

“It was very deep and very technical, even among sophisticated divers, there are very few who can dive to 70 metres which was the depth of the dive site,” Stewart explained. “Both of the divers surfaced. Rob had given the okay signal to tell the boat that he was okay. The second diver struggled getting onto the boat and then lost consciousness. There was a bit of a commotion surrounding that and by the time they went back to look at Rob, they had lost him.”

Stewart’s sister said there’s a concern her brother lost consciousness as well.

The family is in shock, she said.

“This has been a horrible time for me and my family,” she said, noting they are doing everything possible to help in the search and rescue effort.

“We’ve had tremendous volunteers come forward to offer their time and equipment in the search.”

She said her parents and her husband are in Florida helping manage search efforts, but they still need those with experience to join the search that is being co-ordinated by the U.S. Coast Guard.

“Given the water conditions, how athletic and strong Rob is as a swimmer and a diver, we have every reason to believe we have a good couple of days of searching here,” said Stewart.

Coast Guard senior chief Nyx Cangemi said crews had been looking for the conservationist since he was reported missing.

“As long as there’s a chance of survival, we’re going to search,” Cangemi said in an interview. “We remain hopeful that we’ll be able to find him alive.”

Cangemi said the emergency call about Stewart came from the crew of the Pisces, the boat the filmmaker had been on.

He said the search for Stewart included boat and helicopter crews. The U.S. Navy, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office are also helping.

Stewart, a Toronto native, is known for his documentaries that include “Revolution” and his memoir “Save the Humans.”

A global wildlife photographer, Stewart has devoted his career to warning the world about threats facing sharks, other ocean life and humanity in general.

His 2006 documentary “Sharkwater,” which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, became an international hit and prompted people around the world to lobby their governments for bans on shark finning.

Stewart said he and his colleagues risked their lives to make the film: they visited a Costa Rican warehouse that trafficked in illegal shark fin and confronted poachers on the high seas.

Stewart shot “Revolution,” which came out in 2012, in 15 countries over four years.

“This century we’re facing some pretty catastrophic consequences of our actions,” he said in a 2012 interview with The Canadian Press.

“We’re facing a world by 2050 that has no fish, no reefs, no rainforest, and nine billion people on a planet that already can’t sustain seven billion people. So it’s going to be a really dramatic century unless we do something about it.”