Conservationist, researcher, freediver, filmmaker: Madison Stewart is possibly one of the most tireless and inspiring young women in the water today, but, as she explains, there is no other option
I was 14 when the world turned its back on me. I grew up around sharks – diving, sailing, I was part of an ocean-obsessed family, and I made my home amongst the reefs. I began to gravitate towards sharks before I can remember; I related to them, I fitted in with them, the fact that I swam with them separated me from other people.
Then, at 14 years old, the shark populations I had loved as a child began to disappear. I found myself in a state of panic, returning to spots I had always associated with sharks, only to be confronted with an empty reef. I can assure you, and ocean with sharks may be scary, but true fear is an ocean without them.
I later learnt that there was a dedicated shark fishery legally operating inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and World Heritage Area, and the attitude of the Australian public towards sharks had blinded people to it. I began to rally against the fishery, expose its faults, to tear it down.
After failing to change government policies, I realised I needed to take my fight to the public. Not long after, I left school to homeschool and agreed with my dad that my school fees would be spent on an underwater camera. That’s when I began to make films. I wanted to go to school and become a marine biologist; instead, I dropped out and happily took a more effective path towards filmmaking which gave me an avenue for change.
Now I’ve had extensive presence in the media in the name of sharks, including my documentary Shark Girl, which has won international awards. I act to break down the fisheries and the laws that allow the destruction of the animals I love, and