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11 shark net myths debunked as pro surfers freak out over attacks

When Nick Carroll was a semi-grommet at Sydney he
When Nick Carroll was a semi-grommet at Sydney he "didn't give one thought to sharks". Contributed

SENIOR surf journalist Nick Carroll has moved to dispel myths surrounding shark nets as he reveals the reputation of the North Coast has been tarnished among pro surfers, due to attacks.

"My little brother went surfing with pro surfer Nathan 'The Hog' Hedge and Californian surfer Rusty Long recently and they said they surfed at Lennox Head, and just couldn't take it, they were so sketched, they only lasted about half hour," Mr Carroll said.

"And these are guys that will surf any waves, anywhere around world, at any time, so that tells us a little about the impact on surfers.

"I think the surfers are genuinely torn, they don't want to kill things but they don't want to be attacked by sharks, but then they see Sydney and Gold Coast and they think 'why are we being denied protection from big white sharks?'."

The Sydney-based reporter said in recent months he'd encountered many myths about shark nets as community grapples with the debate over Mike Baird's forthcoming trial of smart drum lines on the North Coast.

"Quite a few people have thought that the meshing caught a crap load of other sea creatures and they're tearing the coastal ecosystem apart, and that is just not case, they really aren't causing all that much drama," Mr Carroll said.

"Last year in NSW, 143 sharks were caught with 96 different types of other animals, and quite a lot were freed. It's not quite as lethal as it's been made out to be.

"Meshing, wherever it's been tried seems to have prevented fatal encounters."

But Mr Carroll sympathised with those against shark nets.

"A lot of people moved to the Far North Coast looking for the natural lifestyle and protecting the environment is important to them, so they have a natural fear of what nets will do to the ecosystem.

"But I don't know if their fear matches up with the fear of your kid been eaten up by a shark.

"I've always unwittingly surfed under the protection of meshing, and I look back now and I realise I've been able to do that safely because of shark meshing."

Here are some interesting bits and common myths dispelled about shark nets Mr Carroll can dispel following research for his piece in Coastal Watch on October 21, titled Beyond The Panic, The Facts About Shark nets:

1. The number of attacks and deaths on Sydney's surf beaches prior to meshing were worse than the attack rates off Ballina and Byron today.

This led to shark net meshing by NSW Fisheries in 1937. Over 600 sharks were caught in the first year of operation. Over time the catch declined to about 147 annually.

2. A person has never been caught in a net: nets are located about 12 metres deep, two metres off the sea bed. It would take a skilled diver to access them in the water.

3. Meshing is not for netting entire coastal strips: they're in strategic spots and can be from 80 to 400 metres long, within 500 metres of the shore.

4. Nets aren't just for catching sharks: they disrupt local shark territorial patterns

5. Nets are fitted with acoustic warning devices to alert dolphins and whales.

6. Nets are checked: every two days at a minimum and are replaced every three weeks

7. South Africa has meshed 30 kilometres of beaches to reduce shark attack fatals. Hong Kong barrier entire beaches.

8. Nets are pulled up during the whale migration: from May to September. This has only been the case for about the past 15 years.

9. Authorities have a lot of data on nets: The Department of Primary Industries has 50 years of data from meshing programs.

10. In NSW, on average, the nets catch one humpback every two years. It's more likely in Qld, where they don't take the nets down during the migration.

11. Queensland's program is bigger than NSW: 83 Qld beaches are meshed compared to NSW's 51 beaches netted between September 1, and April 30, each year.

Topics:  drum lines shark nets smart drumlines



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