North Coast gets shark patrols but Evans Head skipped

SHARK-SPOTTING helicopter crews will keep patrol for the next year over the North Coast's beaches, with one notable exception.

Evans Head will be overlooked, not looked over, in an aerial surveillance plan Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair says is funded until at least April next year.

The town's coastline has been the location of multiple shark sightings in the past year.

It was also the site of the near-fatal attack on 52-year-old surfer Craig Ison in July, after which he vowed never to surf again.

The good news: a patrol running from Tweed Heads to South Ballina will operate once a day every weekend for the next year, and every day during school holidays.

A circuit from Wooli to South Sawtell will be monitored every day during school holidays.

Ballina Shire Mayor David Wright welcomed the move, not surprising considering he and Member for Ballina Tamara Smith have made private donations to keep patrols in the air.

"This time last year, we were trying to get coverage but the State Government said it wasn't their responsibility and they didn't have money for it," Cr Wright said.

"So did the (Department of Primary Industries), so we have come a long way.

"It's more than just Ballina - they are coming down the coast and then back up again so we're actually getting two goes at it."

Cr Wright said lifeguards spotted a bull shark beside surfers at Ballina on Tuesday APRIL 19 before lifeguards continued patrolling further south.

"On the way back, there were two sharks," Cr Wright said.

"Of course I'd like to have more patrols, but the State Government has listened and we now have helicopters flying."

Ballina surfer Mark Hernage CORRECT led protests against the government's proposed shark nets last year, citing a lack of consultation with the local surfing community.

Yesterday, he said he was not against shark barriers as a rule, but they needed to be installed correctly.

"I think if the barrier was put in the right place and wasn't a hazard to surfers or vessels going in and out of the bar, it would be okay," he said.

"They would need to dredge the bar, put the barrier out in deep water, away from everyone, but I don't think they will spend the money.

"Unless you do it right the first time, don't just put it in for the sake of it."

He said he supported the use of "smart buoys" that can detect sharks and notify surfers via a phone app.

"That kind of technology would be far better suited than a fixed barrier in an area where there's a high amount of sand movement and large logs coming out of the river," he said.

Mr Hernage said surfers at Ballina were told to clear the water yesterday after shark sightings.

"I had a surf this morning. It does cross your mind when you're on the water, definitely," he said.

"A magnifying glass has been put on the area, and it does worry people."

Cr Wright was also eager to see emergent technologies put to the test.

"That buoy technology works and works well... if they can do more of that - and looking at drone technology - that's a good thing," he said.

"But we are guaranteed (aerial surveillance) for 12 months on school holidays.

"If we did have another attack, and heaven forbid we do, I'm sure they would increase the size of it.

"I just don't want another attack, and anything the government can do is better than not doing anything at all."

Ballina MP Tamara Smith said more could still be done to protect the community from sharks.

"I am told that there is still room for improvement in the protocols for alerting shark activity to our first responders and I look forward to that being clear and unambiguous," she said.

"Whilst aerial patrols are welcome, we as a community need to find long-term and sustainable strategies that actually work to keep people safe whilst protecting marine life and our beach and sea-oriented lifestyle." -ARM NEWSDESK



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