Madison Stewart's life is anything by ordinary. Affectionately known as 'Shark Girl' she began scuba diving at age 12 and quickly became fascinated by the Great Barrier Reef, trading the classroom for the world under the water. Witnessing first hand the decline in shark numbers, Madison decided she wanted to be a voice for them and their environment. She now travels the world, video camera in hand, documenting their world and educating the masses. Her documentary has just been released worldwide, if you missed the Australian premiere, you can watch it here on ABC iView until June 25...
My name is... Madison Stewart, but people call me ‘pip’, dad's a pirate, mum's a hippy, so I ended up a pippy and I am an… Underwater filmmaker, shark advocate, divemaster, technical diver, free diver and delinquent.
My home town is... Byron Bay, NSW, but I grew up on the Gold Coast after spending my first few years living on a yacht.
The last book I read was... Animal Liberation, by Peter Singer.
A typical day consists of... Being very untypical. On days like today, get up, do a few dives and filming, feed some sharks, play practical jokes on people in spare time, then I come home in the afternoon and look at the footage, reply to emails and messages. Recently in Western Australia in the anti shark cull efforts I have had to get up before the sun, get on a boat and check all the drum lines along the coast of Perth for dead sharks, if we find one I get in the water and film it, one day we watched on as fisheries killed a shark, chased their boat for more than half an hour, then got back to land, where I had to do a TV interview straight away.
When i was a kid i wanted to be... a marine biologist, but I grew to like that occupation idea less and less when I saw most marine biologists working for the very authorities I am now fighting against. My priorities shifted when I got a dramatic realization that our oceans were in trouble, and if I wanted a future with sharks, id have to fight for it, so all my plans flew out the window.
My greatest adventure so far has been... The making of my doco ‘shark girl’, which took more than a year and many different countries. I’d also have to say being threatened with court and questioned by fisheries in Western Australia following the shark cull.
I'm inspired by... the old school diving iconic Australians, Ron and Valerie Taylor, Ben Cropp, they were the first to film sharks in the water and show people what was in our oceans, something no one had really seen at the time. They opened up a whole new world and also used to hunt sharks before dedicating their lives to saving them. Also spiderman, he seems to never give up in time of need, no matter how hard is job is.
Right now I'm listening to... AltJ, Run with the hunted and Lykke Li. I have a few songs I listen to before free diving to ‘get in the zone’
The best advice I've ever been given is... “take a deep breath… think about the sharks”, because at times when it all gets a bit overwhelming, and the world is against you, its good to think back to the reason all this is worth it.
What is it about sharks that made you want to fight for them?
I have always loved sharks, I didn’t care that other people feared or hated them, until that started being responsible for their disappearance. I feel the need to fight for sharks over everything else because they have so few people fighting for them, and what seems to be the entire world against them, they are the most misunderstood and threatened creature on our planet today.
What does the day-to-day of Madison Stewart look like? Completely out of my control! I am being told where to go at the moment, as soon as I leave the water on this island in the Bahamas I go to another one to dive with tiger sharks, then I fly to Washington, canada and new york to promote my film, then home or to western Australia. During the making of the film I was in a different country every month. I don’t always go where I want, I go where I’m needed and make the most of it, there are always new issues popping up that my skills can help with and that I cannot sit back and let happen, so I go there if I’m needed for the oceans.
Tell us about your upcoming documentary...
Shark Girl is like no other, if you think you know about sharks, and sharks in Australia, think again. I strive to convince people that our worlds are not that separate, because they are not, everything you do on land, effects sharks, its amazing how connected it all is, sharks girl will show people how you can kill and help sharks by never getting in the water with them, and hopefully change a few minds. A production team from Sydney contacted me out of the blue to ask if I wanted to be in this doco, and my first email back to them was aloNg the lines of “geez thanks but I don’t like being infront of the camera” haha but we met anyway, and in the blink of an eye it started. We dive with many different sharks in the film, but its what happens on land, with people, with fisheries, and with woolworths that is truly amazing.
How do we get involved?
We no longer live on a planet that requires nothing from us, it is always changing, and things are being effected by our species, everyone has to step up and do their bit. Revolt against the media that claims that sharks are bloodthirsty killers which is not true, revolt against the government who allow shark culls, let your voice be heard any way you can, refuse to support actions that kill sharks, don’t eat them, don’t eat shark fin soup which causes shark finning. Learn more, like the fact that a single can of tuna is responsible for the death of many sharks as bycatch, what you eat has one of the biggest impacts on the planet. Most important, stand up for our great barrier reef, which is currently home to a legal shark fishery. Things are happening in our waters that are only happening because the government is able to hide and act behind our fear of sharks, and our inability to fight for them, everyone and anyone has the power to change that.