Shark and marine conservationists sighed collectively as senior New South Wales MP, Chris Gulaptis, recently called for shark nets in the North Coast of the state. It isn’t because conservationists don’t care about people; in fact, the frustration is because they know shark nets simply do not work. Between 1937 and 2008 for example, there were 38 shark attacks recorded in New South Wales, 24 of them (64%) took place at netted beaches, with 14 injuries.
Shark nets do not act as a barrier for the protection of ocean users, as most people think, but are simply a single-sided mesh net, which acts to entrap sharks (usually with most sharks caught on the beach side of the net). These shark nets are usually found with holes big enough for sharks to swim through, and do one job very well, entrap and kill a range of protected and endangered marine life, including whales, dolphins, dugongs, seals, marine turtles, rays and sharks.
The frustration for conservationists is that there are non-lethal measures available currently, which have been scientifically proven to prevent unwanted shark encounters. In Western Australia, where the lethal shark cull was stopped due to environmental concerns, there is the Eco Shark Barrier currently in place at Coogee Beach. Unlike shark nets, this barrier is three-sided and is designed to protect ocean users, by keeping sharks from entering the area where swimmers are. Coastal councils throughout Perth are undertaking feasibility studies to ascertain whether the barrier could be installed at beaches within their boundaries. In Cape Town, South Africa Shark Spotters having been keeping surfers safe for the past 10 years, using a system of spotters, alarms and a series of flags to inform beach goers of shark activity in the area. And finally, for all beach goers, including divers, the Shark Shield was recently scientifically proven to repel sharks 90% of the time.
With options such as these available right now, it is beyond believable, that members of parliament, continue to push for antiquated measures, which have no scientific support, to reduce the chances of shark incidents . The sighs of frustrations however, are being slowly replaced by sighs of relief as the Mayor and Councillors of Ballina Council resist knee-jerk responses made by past politicians, rejecting shark nets as a solution to the issue and suggesting options such as increased aerial surveillance and tagging.
Sea Shepherd has been liaising with policy makers around Australia to have shark nets and drum lines replaced by non-lethal measures as part of its Apex Harmony campaign and have been liaising with renown scientists such as Jessica Meeuwig who concluded from an analysis completed last year, that shark related fatalities in Queensland had declined in both areas with and without drum lines, with the steepest rate of decline being before their installation.
Shark nets were introduced in the 1930’s in New South Wales and drum lines were introduced in the 1960’s in Queensland. It is time for policy makers and politicians to embrace new technology, instead of touting solutions, which do nothing but provide a false sense of security.
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