Authorities are concerned that the shark netting of some north coast beaches has created a bigger environmental threat than they initially expected.
With the netting of sharks, the area has experienced huge numbers of tourists. Some are even saying that this could be the beginning of a boom that could make the area unliveable for years to come.
‘They’re in plague proportions this year,’ said one longtime Byron resident, who even reported some had been washed up against his screen door.
‘If we hadn’t installed the Crim Safe they would have got in for sure. They kept insisting they’d rented our place on Airbnb.’
Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson was against shark netting, because of what he describes as ‘disruption to the natural balance’.
‘Sharks are the natural predator of the tourist. There’s nothing like an attack to keep their numbers down. If you take the sharks out of the equation, there’s going to be an upsurge. Tourists are like cane toads – they breed like wildfire and they seem to be coming down from Queensland.’
Mr Richardson said he did not want to go back to the old days of ‘tourist culling’.
‘We have to remember that tourists are people too. And even though they degrade our local environment by taking over our housing, parking in all our spots, surfing all our good waves and are the cause of major traffic hazards owing to their characteristically slow and clumping style of “impulsive” road crossing, they need to be coached into other areas where they are thought to be almost endangered. Like Grafton for example.’
Mr Richardson thought that perhaps some sort of lure could be created in the form of cafes staffed by rude and surly Melbourne baristas. ‘It’s certainly worked here,’ he said.
In the absence of tourist predators such as sharks, local councils are currently investigating methods that will keep the numbers down.
‘You can’t live in fear of tourists,’ Mr Richardson said. ‘You have to accept that the Byron Shire is a natural habitat for them and as a resident when you go out you really need to make sure you take calculated risks. For instance, don’t head into town on a market day. Don’t go to the beach between 9am and 4pm. And avoid high-risk areas like Woolies. Basically don’t live here.’
So what are some of the strategies being investigated?
‘We have tried using spotters,’ said Mr Richardson. ‘But the problem is, we’re just counting them, not controlling them.’
In other shires drum lines have been cited as a more humane and environmentally responsible approach. ‘I get it,’ says Mayor Richardson. ‘No-one likes drums. Especially in a line. It can be really annoying and when you’ve paid $800 a night for luxury accommodation, and there’re 20 feral bastards outside with their bongos. The drums could work. Unfortunately they’ve been known to drive out local residents as well.’
The council has also considered biological control agents such as human calicivirus but, as it turns out, tourists share a 99.9 per cent similar DNA to our own species. It was too risky.
Currently the council has applied to the state government for approval to net Ewingsdale Road. ‘The tourist net won’t run the whole of the Pacific Highway,’ says Mayor Richardson, careful to communicate that the net is only around 100 metres in length and designed specifically to capture sports wagons, CRVs and Wicked vans.
Sadly though no tourist net is foolproof. In at-risk areas where it has been used there have been locals caught and been forced to relocate to areas like the Tweed.
But there are those in the community in favour of the tourists.
‘They’re beautiful,’ said one tourism activist who believes they should be allowed to roam freely. ‘Byron Bay is their natural habitat. If you’ve ever swum with them you’d know how magical they are. Last week one came up right beside me. I almost touched him.’