Defending our sharks

Madi Stewart photographs sharks in the Caribbean.
Madi Stewart photographs sharks in the Caribbean. Ernst Stewart

FEAR, coupled with human greed, is rapidly wiping out the world's shark population - and nowhere more quickly than on the Great Barrier Reef, says Byron Bay teenager Madison Stewart.

The 18-year-old, who has dived with thousands of sharks - sometimes up to 50 at a time - says they are more afraid of humans than we are of them, and their reputation as killers is undeserved.

There is, on average, one death a year from shark attacks in Australia, Madison says - and many more from bee stings.

But because of their fearsome image - she calls it the "Jaws effect" - the public is willing to ignore their extermination.

Combine this reluctance to act with the global billion-dollar shark-fin industry, and we have these magnificent animals being decimated and, in Australia, with the Federal Government's blessing, she said.

Madison began diving in Byron Bay at the age of 12, travelling from her home in Queensland because she could qualify for a SCUBA ticket at a younger age.

Her first dive was at Julian Rocks, where she saw several grey nurse sharks.

But she says she had always been in love with sharks, and had seen them many times before on free dives and while snorkelling on the Great Barrier reef and off the Gold Coast.

The Great Barrier Reef was where her conservationist drive kicked in - being there was "the best thing in the world; it was my Disneyland", she says.

From there her dives grew more exotic.

Aged 14, she accompanied her father, a dive master, to Tiger Beach in the Bahamas and started to shoot film.

Her film work and reputation as a diver and conservationist have led to her being chosen for a mini documentary and advertisement for the search engine Bing.

The ad screened on TV for the first time last weekend, and the film, which traces her underwater adventures, is available on the internet.

The ad campaign is the first by Bing and will feature other inspirational Australians.

Bing has previewed Madison's story and how she embodies "doing", launching her mini documentary online at

She intends to keep on "doing" - fearlessly.

"I want the Australian people to speak out and I'm using film to encourage people to choose to reverse the Jaws effect," she said.

"The (Australian) shark fin trade is a powerful industry, where fins are sent to Asia for soup. But people here can stop eating the body of the shark, which is a by-product of the fin trade."

James Cook University research shows the populations of white-tipped reef sharks and grey nurse sharks are down by 97%, she says.


What is Bing?

BING is computer giant Microsoft's answer to the Google search engine.

Like Google, Bing combines web searches with other features such as maps, images and videos along with other features.

Topics:  diving hunt ocean sea sharks

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