ABOVE: Madi Stewart filming in the Caribbean.
ABOVE: Madi Stewart filming in the Caribbean.

Teen shows no fear

MADISON "Madi" Stewart doesn't fear sharks - she loves them.

The Byron Bay 18-year-old underwater film-maker has a passion for them and their survival.

Madi readily admits she's more at home in the water with them than she is with people on land.

Since getting her diving certification at 12, she has logged more than 450 dives in Australia and around the world and most of them have been with sharks.

She says she has more to fear from "unpredictable" humans than sharks, which she describes as "the most predictable perfect life form".

Indeed, she says with millions of sharks slaughtered around the world each year for their fins, they have more to fear than people.

Which is why she is determined to do something about it and to also to "overturn the damage caused by Jaws".

She says five people are killed (by sharks) on average a year around the world, with more people killed by vending machines.

"One of our biggest misconceptions is fear of sharks," she said.

"There are

more than 300 species and only about three species are implicated

in attacks on humans."

Madi says in all her dives with countless numbers of sharks, including hand-feeding them, she has had no "close encounters" or witnessed signs of aggression.

She says sharks are very curious and sometimes it even took a lot to get them to come close, even the bigger ones.

"If you understand them, there is no fear for them," she said. "If you know the truth about them, they are actually quite predictable."

Madi was introduced to the underwater world by her dive master father Ernst, who shares her passion for sharks.

From the age of 14 she opted out of regular school to be home-schooled after readily accepting her father's trade-off offer of an underwater video camera over school fees.

One of the videos she has created since is Man Eating Shark, showing footage of sharks being hand-fed in waters off Nassau, as well as footage of sharks in Australian waters.

It also shows confronting shark-finning footage from a film called Sharkwater by Rob Stewart.

The title of Madi's video is a deliberate play on words - "man does eat shark, not the other way around" - and she knew it would have an impact on You Tube with people looking for footage of shark attacks. She hopes that when people watch the video they will learn a thing or two about sharks and also about the legal shark fin fishing occurring inside Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

It's that decision by the Federal Government in 2009 to allow 200 commercial gillnet vessels to target sharks inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park that she is passionately fighting to overturn.

She says 600 tonnes of shark is taken legally each year, with the meat sold and fins exported as an "Asian delicacy".

Madi says the by-catch includes a number of protected and critically endangered species. Shark netting inside the Great Barrier Reef is being assessed by the Federal Environment Department to see if it is sustainable, with submissions closing tomorrow.

Madi is appealing to anyone who feels the same as her to urgently lodge a submission to sustainablefisheries@environment.gov.au

For more information, go to Madi's website at www.elements5.blogspot.com.

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