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

Scuba Diver Australasia - - Cristina Zenato - Text by Images by

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

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