My name is Madison Stewart, to my friends ‘Pip’ (my dad’s a pirate, mum’s a hippy, so I became ‘Pippy’) probably now known better as ‘Shark Girl’. I have always grown up in the oceans, living on a yacht form the age of 2 and then growing up on the waters of Australia’s Gold Coast. At 12 years of age I was a certified Open Water diver at Sundive in Byron Bay, and at age 14 I has picked up an underwater camera for the first time. Everyone has a special memory of wonder from their childhood, my obsession quickly became the Great Barrier Reef. I left school to start home schooling at age 14 and in an agreement with my father I traded my school fees for an underwater video system, a simple tape camera in a housing. From that point on, the sharks, the Great Barrier Reef, and the oceans worldwide became my normality, my classroom and my home.
I left school thinking I would travel the world and dive its oceans, but I had no idea at the time that I would not get to live that life. I had entered the water on a night dive at the place I had had the closest encounter with sharks in the past. They would hunt in the floodlights from the boats, and it was quite often just my father and myself surrounded by up to 40 sharks. This was the stuff dreams were made of, this was my place, and to this day I have never felt safer or more at home than in those waters surrounded by sharks. When I returned to this reef only a year later, I saw one shark, too scared to come close to the boat. They had been fished out, at this exact moment the reality of the state of the oceans hit me.
It lead me to discover a legal shark fishery was operating within the water of the Great Barrier Reef, wether this was the cause or not, it would become my introduction into the world of activism. I had for the first time, witnessed the effects of over fishing, and I was completely devastated. I have loved sharks since I was young and it was my dream to have involvement in filming sharks, but I never expected it to be for conservation, to have to convey an message in my films and try to get those who fear sharks to twist their minds and respect them instead. Then filmmaking became the only thing I had to raise awareness and draw people in, it became my greatest asset. I never set out to be a 'conservationist', in fact I dislike that word and I still maintain that I am not one. I think merely having a word for it makes it seem out of reach when really it should be expected of every human.
Behind all this I could be considered normal, I was raised on the Gold Coast for most of my life. I never learnt to ride a push bike because my father thought the roads were too dangerous, so he took me diving with sharks instead. My work against local fisheries lead to my filmmaking in order to raise awareness, which lead to my first documentary ‘shark girl’. Now conversation has become the foundation of my work, from working with shark attack victims to transforming shark fishermen into tourism operators, its taken me all over the world and introduced me to so may injustices that I continue to fight. My knowledge of things happening to them and love for sharks has always been strong, but it wasn’t until I gathered the courage to be involved in conservation that I realised I could actually make a difference, and I owe this realisation to my inspiration and friend, Rob Stewart, who to this day inspires me.
The most important career I can hope to be involved in now is the protection of this planet, and thus my own future. I hope to continue to inspire and cause people to question things through the films that I make and the boundaries I push. Through shark culls ive witnessed, and trucks of dead sharks I’ve crawled into the back of, one thing continues to push me, my love for Australia’s great barrier reef, and my refusal to see the natural world and its apex predators suffer at the hands of human ignorance. Not now, nor has it ever been impossible for one person to make a difference.