YOUNG Byron Bay filmmaker and shark activist Madison Stewart is the star of a new TV documentary.
A co-production between ABC TV, Screen Australia and America's Smithsonian Channel, Shark Girl follows the 19-year-old's efforts to save the oceans' top predators.
The hour-long film, directed by Gisela Kaufmann and Carsten Orlt and featuring renowned wildlife cameraman Andy Casagrande, explores the unique upbringing that fostered Stewart's passionate love of the ocean and sharks and documents her efforts to educate the Australian public about legal shark fishing on the Great Barrier Reef and the dangers of eating flake (shark meat).
During the course of the film she also travels overseas to visit the world's largest shark sanctuary in Palau, where sharks are worth more alive as a tourist attraction than for their fins, and to the Bahamas where she learns how to feed and wrangle reef sharks.
The documentary marks a turning point in Stewart's burgeoning career, where she has moved out from behind the camera lens.
"Sharks are so very different to other causes in the sense I am not just trying to raise awareness but I am also facing the task of sparking respect and love for a creature demonised since it was first depicted in the media," Stewart writes on her website.
"I need people to feel the same way about sharks that I do so they can feel the same pain I do in the face of their destruction."
Stewart still produces her own short films and recently travelled to Western Australia to document the state's controversial shark cull with environmental group Sea Shepherd.
"My underwater camera is my medium in the movement for my generation's claim over the natural world and rebellion against its destruction," she said. "I use films as a way of lighting the darkness surrounding the injustices occurring in our waters."
While her clashes with the WA authorities took place after the filming of Shark Girl, they were recently featured on the ABC's 7.30 program.
"I never set out to be a 'conservationist', in fact I dislike that word and I still maintain that I am not one," Stewart said.
"I witnessed the decimation of a species within my lifetime, a species I consider my family, and I decided to fight back."
Shark Girl airs on ABC2 on Wednesday at 8.30pm.
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