Opinion: Shark nets are not the best option

THE northern NSW community has had enough!

They want answers to a difficult problem; keeping ocean users safe from a marine animal. Sharks bites in the region feel like they are constantly in the news.

The community has had enough of "shark experts", failed trials from the NSW Government and the like! They want genuine solutions; but shark nets are not one of them!

By going through shark attack files, it is clear that these nets do not prevent encounters; 16 unwanted shark encounters at beaches with drum lines or shark nets in Queensland and 44 (at last count) in New South Wales and sadly with some major shark bites and a fatality included.

The 19 shark encounters during the past 10 years alone, at "shark controlled" beaches have been included, so you can see for yourself and not just take my word.

So if shark nets aren't the answer, what is?

This question has resulted in a global search and one major answer stands out. Quite simply it is a dedicated shark spotting program similar to that in Cape Town, South Africa, a location which has the second largest white shark population and one of the most popular surfing beaches at Muizenberg.

The Shark Spotters program is akin to Australia's well-respected lifesavers, but requires height and is focused and dedicated on looking around beach users for shark activity, at the surface as well as dark shadows in the water or on the sea floor.

Shark spotters won't work at every beach in northern NSW, but a site assessment undertaken by representatives from Shark Spotters advises us that locations such as where the most recent shark bite took place in Broken Head, has good potential, due to its height advantages and sandy sea floor.

Lennox Point also was marked as having potential, which the Ballina council would be aware of, if they hadn't resolved to ignore the site assessment report compiled by Shark Spotters.

A shark spotting study at Wategos Beach undertaken by Sea Shepherd Australia with the support of Byron Council and Greens MP Tamara Smith in September this year, illustrated the potential success of this program, with five sharks spotted in the first week; only one of which was spotted by officials.

This solution not only has 13 years of scientific studies behind it, but was also recommended to the NSW Government by Australian researchers in a report by Cardno, as the number one solution to the issue.

The reason this simple solution has been so effective is that through signage and flags at beaches, the program alerts ALL beach users of a shark sightings as well as providing information about what is occurring within the water at the time that may attract sharks, such as bait ball sightings.

Combine shark spotters with the use of electronic devices such as shark shields and in the event of a rare shark bite, the Acute Shark Attack Pack, (ASAP) and we are in a much better place to save more lives or minimise the rare chance of a shark encounter.

The NSW Government is acutely aware that shark nets are not the answer for this region.

Despite the fact that they will not protect human lives, they will also decimate the local marine life populations.

Despite the talk about pingers and alarms to deter whales and dolphins, the Queensland Government has recorded its highest record of whale entrapments in nets during this whale migration season, with 13 ensnared so far.

And that's not all - over 84,000 marine animals in Queensland and 17,000 in New South Wales have been caught since government departments have been keeping records.

Freeing stressed, entangled, yet powerful whales that can weigh as much as 40 tonnes is a process that also puts the de-entanglement teams lives also at great risk.

Finally, with major swells, sandbars and shallow waters in Ballina, it can be difficult to navigate a boat offshore to free any entrapped marine animals in the region and therefore the very animals which tourists pay to visit and see up close will eventually drown and die.

Pods of dolphins like the local Richmond River Group will be ensnared and drown and organisations like the Australian Sea Bird Rescue, will be releasing rescued and rehabilitated turtles straight into a curtain of death.

Shark nets will not stop shark bites in northern New South Wales - they haven't stopped them in Sydney; but they have trapped and killed a lot of marine life.

The northern NSW community need genuine solutions; and a dedicated shark spotting program is one of them!

- Natalie Banks is Chief Advisor for Sea Shepherd's Apex Harmony Campaign.

Recent encounters on 'shark controlled' beaches

  • January 7, 2006: Amity Point (8 drum lines) - Sarah Whiley (21) lost her life after being bitten by up to three bull sharks while swimming in waist-deep water with friends
  • March 15, 2006: Bondi (shark nets) - Blake Mohair (15) had his surfboard nudged by a 2m bronze whaler
  • April 11, 2006: Newcastle (shark nets) - Luke Cook (15) received minor lacerations on his foot from a juvenile bronze whaler while surfing
  • February 12, 2009: Bondi (shark nets) - Glen Orgias (33) loses left hand after being bitten by 2.5m white shark while surfing
  • March 1, 2009: Avalon (shark nets) - Andrew Lindop (15) bitten on leg by suspected 2.6m white shark while surfing
  • December 20, 2009: Mudjimba (4 drum lines) - two males were bumped by a shark while kayaking
  • December 26, 2009: Avoca (shark nets) - John Sojoski (55) received lacerations to lower leg after accidentally stepping on shark
  • February 11, 2010: Mona Vale (shark nets) - Surfer Paul Welsh (46) bitten on left lower leg by a wobbegong shark while teaching son (10) to surf
  • November 28, 2011: Peregian (3 drum lines) - Eamon Kriz (10) received a bit bite to his foot while swimming
  • December 7, 2011: Maroubra (shark nets) - Ronald Mason (14) bitten on leg by a wobbegong while surfing
  • January 3, 2012: North Avoca (shark nets) - Surfer Mike Wells (28) receives about 50 puncture wounds to right arm by a suspected bronze whaler
  • January 18, 2012: Redhead Beach (shark nets) - Glen Folkard (44) bitten by white shark on thigh while surfing
  • February 6, 2012: Wurtulla Beach (1 net) Nick Ferguson (29) had a scare when surfing, losing a fin from his surfboard
  • March 20, 2012: Nobbys Beach (2 drum lines) Bill O'Leary (20) had his leg bitten by a suspected bull shark while surfing
  • January 25, 2013: Noosa (2 nets and 3 drum lines) Matthew Cassaigne received lacerations to his neck
  • October 17, 2014: Avoca (shark nets) - Surfer Kirra-Belle Olsson (13) was bitten on left calf and ankle, and received puncture wounds to left foot while surfing
  • February 5, 2015: Merewether (shark nets) - Bodyboarder Ben McPhee bitten on ankle by 1.8m shark (believed to be a bull shark)
  • December 21, 2015: Bondi (shark nets) - Surfer Dean Norburn (43) had a shark leap onto his surfboard
  • March 28, 2016: North Cronulla (shark nets) - Surfer Roie Smyth (41) had his board compacted while surfing

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