Celebrating Rob Stewart and protecting sharks

A crucial breakthrough has been made in the battle to save sharks from extinction. An historic number of countries agreed to regulate the international trade in 18 species of sharks and rays at the World Wildlife Conference. This will help protect two mako species, six guitarfish species, and 10 wedgefish species, which will make an enormous difference for the ocean.

Celebrating Rob Stewart

In a wonderful piece of timing, while the agreement was being made we were gathering on Necker Island to celebrate Rob Stewart’s life. Rob was a wonderful conservationist who made the incredible documentary Sharkwater, which did so much to convince so many people of the need to protect sharks and other species. He sadly passed away a few years ago, doing what he loved - diving in the ocean surrounded by marine life.

A small group of us joined together in the sea off Turtle Beach on Necker Island, a place that Rob loved. We shared our memories of him and celebrated his achievements and his life, before releasing some of his ashes. In this photo you can see a beautiful wooden shark, which I bought to raise money for ocean conservation after hearing Rob give a powerful speech a few years ago. We’re going to put some of his ashes inside the shark too.

 

Richard with a wooden shark

One of the countries that signed up to the agreement was Canada, which looked set to reject it beforehand. 

The wonderful underwater photographer Shawn Heinrichs alerted me to this danger and I wrote a letter to the Canadian government with the help of Ocean Unite, urging them to support the agreement. As I mentioned in my letter, Rob was Canadian, and has done more than anyone to raise awareness about the plight of sharks. Rob saw the world in a beautiful way, showing how all of its species are interconnected. His love of sharks stemmed from their place at the top of the ocean food chain, how they are vital for the whole ocean eco-system, which in turn is crucial to humanity.

After the ceremony I got a note from the minister saying the Canadian government had changed their minds and would support the agreement. They should be congratulated for absorbing the latest worrying facts about the plight of the sharks, for putting the ocean first, and for moving so quickly. We need more governments willing to put the planet before politics.

It has been wonderful to see Canada step forward as an ocean champion. I was fortunate to meet with Minister McKenna in Toronto recently, and we discussed her government’s excellent efforts to combat marine plastic pollution and illegal fishing on my Sirius XM radio show too.

Richard Branson and Catherine McKenna, the Minister for Environment and Climate Change

It was also great to see Canada announcing support for the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance (ORRAA) at the G7 Summit. The Alliance, which encourages countries to address ocean risk and build coastal resilience, was supported by all G7 members when the Environment Ministers met in May. Other countries, businesses and partners are expected to join in the near future. 

The CITES agreement gives mako sharks and the other newly protected sharks and species an opportunity for a long and productive future. What a wonderful legacy for Rob and his family.

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