Shark Watch forced to fold

A PILOT project aimed at patrolling the Clarence coastline to monitor shark activity has been withdrawn from operation early due to difficulties obtaining adequate funding.

The Shark Watch air patrol service began operations in the Clarence region in October and was expected to complete the season at the end of next month.

However, a lack of sponsorship funding and communications issues resulted in the air patrol ceasing operation at the end of last month.

The news comes just days after Yamba teenager Dean Everson fought off an attack from a white pointer at Turners Beach on Saturday.

East Coast Autogyro initiated the Shark Watch program in two primary locations – from Kingscliff to Coffs Coast and from Coffs to South West Rocks – to provide a community service warning beachgoers of increased shark activity during the peak holiday season.

Yamba-based pilot and operator of Coltair, Peter Coulter, told The Daily Examiner the initial concept was to patrol the area from Wooli to Kingscliff on peak weekends and provide a comparatively low-cost solution.

“I have spoken to local surf clubs and they have been supportive at a grassroots level,” Mr Coulter said.

“The cost of running a gyrocopter is substantially less than any other form of air surveillance and we have great visibility being able to cruise above sea-level close to 300 foot.

“It’s disappointing that we haven’t been able to raise enough money to keep the program running, but I haven’t given up and will continue to pursue the idea for the next season,” Mr Coulter said.

East Coast Gyro executive marketing director Craig Crooks estimates that direct operating costs were less than $40 per hour for the service.

“We would love a major sponsor, or perhaps several sponsors who are willing to commit to a month each,” he said.

Mr Crooks said last season’s trial run raised some issues the project would need to address before committing to a patrol next summer.

“It’s such a cost-effective service, but we need some support from the local community and businesses,” he said.

“There were also some problems with communications that need to be worked out, but we plan to sit down later in the year and discuss all our options.”

Meanwhile, local shark expert and commercial fisherman Allan Bodycote has provided some timely advice in the wake of Saturday’s attack.

Mr Bodycote said sharks were primitive creatures that relied on an excellent sense of smell and not vision to locate food.

He said sharks were also able to sense fluctuations in electrical fields.

“Being in their territory between dusk and dawn is a big no no,” Mr Bodycote said.

“That’s when they feed.”

Avoiding murky water and the area around the river mouth is also advisable, Mr Bodycote suggested.

“In the dirty water, they can’t identify you and may just take an inquisitive bite.”

Mr Bodycote warned April and May were traditionally the prime time for shark activity in the Clarence.

“There are large schools of mullet around, also bream and blackfish, especially at the river mouth,” he said.

“I definitely wouldn’t swim there between April and May,” he said.

Mr Bodycote said paying attention to weather conditions, such as the direction of the wind and cloud coverage, was also a good way to avoid coming into contact with sharks.

“If it’s overcast, the water is darker,” he said.

“Southerly winds can also indicate increased shark activity,” Mr Bodycote said.

“The one you see is not the one you need to worry about.”

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