Nets are not the answer
A INCREASE in shark activity in northern New South Wales, has seen authorities and communities grasping to understand what is going on, and how best to keep ocean users safe. Nearly everyone has a theory or an opinion on the matter.
There have been calls for various potential solutions to the issue, including the installation of shark nets in the region.
Authorities must play an intricate balancing act of respecting the fears within the community, and taking into account the scientific data available to them. Those calling for shark nets are ignoring the very real, and frightening fact, that there have been 39 unwanted shark encounters at netted beaches since they have been installed.
Shark nets used in New South Wales are all 150-metres long and six meters wide, which sit in about 10-12 metres of water; that is to say, there is a four to six metre gap between the surface and the shark net, which sharks can travel over and around.
In the past 23 years, there has been 21 unwanted shark encounters at netted beaches in NSW; almost one per year. This doesn't include the death of a 15-year old boy, who it is believed, drowned after being caught in a shark net at Shoal Bay in March 2007. It does however include the shark incident on 12 February 2009 at Bondi Beach when Glen Orgias (33) lost his left hand after being bitten by a 2.5m white shark while surfing and the severe bite that Andrew Lindop (15) received by a suspected 2.6m white shark at Avalon Beach on 1 March 2009. It also includes the horrendous bite surfer Glen Folkard received by a bull shark at Redhead Beach, north of Sydney in January 2012. A report provided to the New South Wales Department of Industries highlights that the overall number of shark attacks was the same (61) in the 37 years before and after the shark mitigation program however, unwanted shark encounters in the state, during the past few decades have been increasing, proving that shark nets are failing New South Wales ocean users. The rate of unwanted shark encounters at the Central Coast's ocean beaches, for example (the most recent location to receive shark nets) has increased since the shark nets have been installed, from one incident every 22 years, to one incident every 4.4 years.
Knowing this, it is indeed heartbreaking to see that from 1950 to 2014, there have been 16,746 marine animals entangled in the shark nets. This includes a range of vulnerable and protected species such as whales, dolphins, turtles, seals, nearly 400 grey nurse sharks (critically endangered and protected in NSW since 1984) and a dugong.
Despite accounting for almost a third of the catch, hammerhead sharks are not a target species and have not been implicated in a single attack in NSW since 1900.