As Tweed Heads surfer Mick Fanning flies home after narrowly escaping from a shark attack in South Africa, nearby Ballina is grappling with ways to prevent further attacks in its waters.
Ballina mayor David Wright said Fanning’s close encounter with what is believed to be a great white shark had further cemented the trauma felt by those involved in recent attacks in local waters.
‘I’ve had phonecalls from a couple of the guys who were in the water with Tadashi (the Japanese surfer killed by a shark at Ballina) and it really was traumatic for them (seeing the attack on Fanning,’ Cr Wright said.
‘Some of those guys haven’t gone back in the water since.’
Cr Wright said with four attacks since February, local surfers and the wider community wanted interim measures put in place to protect beach users.
He said a meeting today at the Ballina Lighthouse Surf Club would further define what those measures might be.
‘The State Government has allocated $100,000 to New South Wales No Shark Cull and they’re looking at alternatives for beaches other than netting and drum lining’.
Cr Wright said tagging was a possibility, as well as increased aerial surveillance of local beaches.
Shark experts from Southern Cross University will attend today’s meeting along with police, lifeguards, the council and other interested parties.
After a meeting last week to examine the coroner’s findings into the death of Tadashi Nakahara in February at Shelly Beach, Ballina, Cr Wright said he was “gobsmacked” to realize that there was no set nation-wide protocol in place in the event of a shark attack.
Cr Wright said aerial surveillance was an important preventative measure, but the costs could be high.
‘We moved last week that council, police and surf lifesavers have air horns in their cars to signal the presence of sharks, and that flags and better communication systems be examined.
He said a further meeting would take place on 30 July to discuss funding.
‘We are also looking at drones, chemicals and sonic devices,’ he said.
‘I’ve been contacted by a guy in Ballina who has bought four sonic devices for him and his children at a cost of $395.
Meanwhile, Mick Fanning is set to fly back to Tweed Heads today, much to the relief of his mother.
Julian Wilson is also returning home.
The mothers of both surfers have told the nation they are grateful the boys are coming home “with all their bits”.
Fanning’s mother Elizabeth Osborne offered a very public thank you to Nola Wilson, whose son bravely paddled towards Fanning in the moments after he was attacked by a great white during a competition in South Africa.
‘Thank you to your family and especially to Julian for being such a hero and caring about what was happening to my son,’ she said.
‘We have been friends for quite a while and this will just cement a very, very close friendship,’ Ms Osborne told Ms Wilson during a live cross on the Nine Network.
Meanwhile, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk will recommend Wilson for a bravery award for fearlessly swimming towards Fanning when he realised the three-time world champion was in mortal danger.
Wilson’s mother said the gratitude and pride she and Fanning’s mum felt was overwhelming.
‘All we’ve got to do is be so grateful that they’re coming home with all their bits,’ Ms Wilson laughed.
‘Of course I’m always proud of Julian, but, you know, that’s just his nature. He would have been so concerned for Mick that it wouldn’t have even entered his head to do anything else.
‘They’ve always been friends and I guess they will be friends for life now.’
Both mums said they were satisfied with the efforts of competition organisers to ensure the area was safe for the surfers.
They said all surfers knew sharks posed a risk – at home or abroad – including hot spots like Jeffreys Bay.
‘Obviously nobody told the shark that it was off limits for the day,’ Ms Wilson chuckled.
‘Every surfer knows they’re there. It’s just part and parcel of the whole thing that they love. Maybe next time we can put a sign up on the point (saying): “Excuse me, this is a world title. Keep away or you’ll find yourself on the television”.’
Surfing Australia chief executive Andrew Stark, a close friend of Fanning, said there was only so much organisers could do to guard against sharks.
‘They had the water safety craft out there and they were doing surveillance from the air and that sort of thing, but these are really fast-moving sharks and they can come into an area very quickly and really under the radar,’ he told the Nine Network.
Mr Stark said South Africa was “a pretty sharky place” with a long history of attacks.
‘We are all so relieved that Mick is okay and hats off to Julian. What a warrior instinct to do what he did.’
He said he was sure Fanning would surf again, pointing out he was still in the running for a fourth world title.
‘Absolutely. I think in the heat of the moment, when he was coming to terms with it, his statements were more around the fact of the value of life, and that he wouldn’t mind if he didn’t get back in,’ Mr Stark said.