"Do things from the heart and for the right reasons, and you won't fail."- Madi
As long as I can remember, I've always been afraid of sharks. Every time I'd jumped into the ocean, my mind would endlessly wrap around the idea that a shark could attack me. Thanks, Jaws!!
While most of us would swim the farthest away from any shark, Madison Stewart intentionally swims with them.
When I grow up, I want to be like Madison Stewart. She is the perfect definition of an Untamed Gal because she lives from her truth and fights for what she believes in every day. It was a privilege to share an hour with her on the podcast.
This Australian mermaid picked her Open Water certification at 12, an underwater camera at 14 and been hanging out with her "shark homies" since then. She saw the sea's predators in their true light: magnificent marine animals with a personality of their own, some curious, some shy. When she noticed them disappearing in places where she saw them in abundance before, Madi just couldn't let this fly. Little did she know that what used to be her passion would turn into her life's mission.
With a drive as intense as monsoon winds, and a sense of humour that leaves you no chance at breathing, the shark girl is making massive waves in the shark conservation world. She's exposing governments who kill sharks illegally, educating the masses with her films and saving sharks by providing Indonesian shark fishermen with an alternative income through tourism. Through her genius initiative called Project Hiu, Madi is improving life below and above the surface, but she also shows us how change can happen when leading from the heart.
Did you know that around 100 million sharks are being killed for their fins every year? Madi explains the shark fin trade is a multi-million dollar industry that mainly caters to an Asian market that perceives fin soup as a delicacy while showcasing their wealth status. In reality, shark meat is very high in mercury and dangerous for us to eat. She uses her filmmaking skills to make people think about the origin of their foods and close the gap between the oceans apex predator and how it ends up on their plate.
But why is protecting sharks so important? Madi explained that losing too many sharks could create an imbalance in the fish population, which could lead to more coral reefs dying. And since half of the air we breathe comes from the ocean, I think I'm pretty clear on why we need to do whatever we can to protect sharks and their home.
Madison has been a conservationist her entire life. She had to risk her own while fighting for change. Through her filmmaking and collaboration with other filmmakers and activists, sensitive footage was captured to show illegal activities of governments who are responsible for protecting endangered species. Rob Stewart, filmmaker and director of the world-famous Shark Waters, has been the biggest inspiration in her journey to fight for what she knows is right.
"Nature is what matters. Not society, not economy, not all these things that you're told to care about. The natural world is literally all we have, and the oceans are drastically in need of our help right now." - Madi
Madi created Project Hiu a few years ago, an innovative and brilliant initiative whose purpose is to improve life above and below the surface. How? Here's the brilliant part: by providing Indonesian shark fisherman with another (and much safer) source of income: tourism.
In Lombok, Madison was able to befriend a shark fisherman and get him to use his boat for tourism instead. The fishermen are making 200% more profit than fishing sharks, are way safer and have way more fun! Plus, they get to chill with their families in the evening compared to spending weeks at sea.
Project Hiu is now offering life-changing sustainable trips that allow you to have the experience of your life and be part of the change. Your money is used to keep sharks in the water, and provide an entire community of fisherman families with a stable income, access to clean water and waste management initiatives.
I admire Madison for her leadership. Once self-proclaimed angry vegan and activist, she eventually realized that being angry is exhausting and just doesn't work. Instead, she changed her perspective about who she used to consider her enemies and saw them for who they truly are: poor family men trying to do the right thing. She was able to put herself in their shoes, and only then could she feel compassion for them.
"We've been fighting a war with hatred, and it's understandable but not tactical."
To be able to empathize with the people who anger you the most as been life-changing for Madison. She has become a woman who leads from the heart, and to me, that is real power.
If you want to find out more about Madison and Project Hiu, listen to the full episode.
Want more untamed gals? Check out Episode 2 with Jennifer Huggins