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The U.S. Coast Guard is on the scene Wednesday morning to search for Stewart, 37, who 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.
“We’re in the critical window of daylight right after he’s gone missing where, if we’re going to find him on the surface — where we’d like to find him — it’s going to be today,” Stewart’s sister, Alexandra Stewart, said in an emotional interview with CBC Toronto on Wednesday morning.
Weaver said Stewart was “diving on a wreck off of Islamorada” with three other divers when he went missing, but the three are safe.
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.
“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.”
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 stressed his love for the environment, something evident in his work as a filmmaker.
Dustin Titus, who has known Stewart for more than a decade, also praised his passion for conservation.
The conservation community is experiencing “a lot of nervousness” over Stewart’s disappearance, he added. “Everyone’s really scared.”
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.
“We are looking forward to having him back because the world needs him,” echoed Parfit.
“The sea, the oceans need him.”