Shark attacks lead to beach safety discussion

MINIMISING the risk of shark attacks is ultimately a mix of government and individual responsibility, says Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis.

With tourism already feeling the effects of heavy shark activity on the North Coast this year, the State Government has funded aerial shark patrols from Bryon Bay to Evans Head for the September school holidays. But those in the Clarence Valley will have to take their own precautions, at least for now.

Mr Gulaptis said it would be great if the local region was included in the patrols, but he understood why the government was focusing its attentions on the perceived "hot zone".

"Clearly it would be wonderful to have shark patrols right up and down the coast but that's not economically possible," he said.

"People have to be aware of the fact they're going into a potential predator's environment and need to take precautions: avoid the water at dawn and dusk, swim or surf in the company of others, and make sure they're not swimming around baitfish. Clearly an attack can happen anywhere and we know that, we just have to be careful."

Mr Gulaptis said he hoped a shark summit scheduled for next month would outline strategies which could be employed right across the coast.

"We haven't been in a situation before where there have been so many attacks in such a short period of time on the North Coast," he said.

"This is not an easy fix, but we do need a strategy which is sustainable and doesn't destroy marine life on the way. I'm hopeful the outcomes of the summit will produce longer term outcomes to keep beachgoers, and marine life, safe."

Yamba resident Peter Coulter, who attempted to establish a local aerial shark patrol in 2010, said one of the most important reasons for shark patrolling was to renew confidence.

He said aerial surveillance was also useful for other coastal operations, and saw no reason why the Clarence Valley shouldn't be included in surveillance.

"We haven't had any major incidents here but that doesn't mean that we won't," he said.

"Even if people want to argue shark spotting isn't foolproof, what it does do is give people confidence to go in the water, and that's an important thing for tourists."

Eight great white sharks have been tagged off Ballina since the North Coast Local Waters Shark Tagging Project started in August, with recent data showing one tagged shark travelled up to 550 kilometres in a week.

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