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Byron Shire
April 24, 2021

Is Evans River dredging attracting sharks?

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An aerial view of spoil being released in the Evans River. (supplied)
An aerial view of spoil being released in the Evans River. (supplied)

An Evans Head residents group wants to know whether spoil from dredging in the Evans River might be attracting sharks.

Photographs taken just days before Craig Ison was attacked last Friday show spoil from the dredging being pumped into the ocean.

Evans Head Residents for Sustainable Development vice president Richard Gates said the spoil ‘is hardly clean water’.

Dr Gates said the spoil smelled like rotting organic matter, and referred back to the days when nearby Byron Bay was a whaling centre.

‘(Back then) the water was full of blood from the harpooned whales and organic matter in the water and there were sharks everywhere,’ he said.

Dr Gates said the current spoil could be having the same effect.

‘Might it be the case that the smelly material being dumped into the surf over a number of days acted to act the sharks….a form of burley or chum?,’ he said.

‘Did it increase the risk to surfers?

Dr Gates said there was no risk assessment of dumping spoil in the dredging’s review of environmental factors.

‘In my view such an assessment should have been made as there is sufficient mention of the problems of outfalls and certain types of pollution and sharks,’ he said.

Spoil from dredging in the  Evans River is pumped into holding ponds. (supplied)
Spoil from dredging in the Evans River is pumped into holding ponds. (supplied)

Dr Gates said it wasn’t a coincidence that there had been shark attacks at both Ballina and Evans Head in recent times.

‘At Ballina the polluted Richmond River flows into the sea.  The recent study of the Richmond tells us it’s not in the best of nick,’ he said.

‘And at Evans Head there is the spoil from the dredging operation leaching into the sea and flowing out into the ocean from the river.

‘Perhaps there should be a moratorium on the use of the beach until well after the dredging is complete and the water being released into the ocean needs to be cleaned up properly and tested for dissolved organic matter and other potential attractants for sharks.’

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  1. This issue was raised with authorities last Sunday after a licenced drone operator noted heaps of baitfish feeding near the Evans Head dreging outfall close to where three confirmed Great White Sharks were filmed, two of them circling very close (20 metres) to a surfer who did not heed warnings to stay out of the water. This issue was also raised yesterday with the CSIRO Shark Research Department, which said it was a distinct possibility that the outfall could be attracting the baitfish, and also sharks which naturally feed on them. The CSIRO will shortly be sending a team to the north coast region to tag sharks and monitor their movements following the recent increase in sightings along the coast here.

  2. https://theconversation.com/how-government-can-help-us-avoid-shark-attacks-8255
    Shark specialists offer a check list to assess your own “trip to the wilds of a beach”
    ‘I look at 15 variables that include:

    What’s the weather?

    1.) Has there been a storm, did it rain? (avoid swimming after heavy storms, particularly near sewage outfalls)

    2.) Level of sunlight, cloudiness (avoid swimming in gloomy, stormy conditions)

    What’s the time / environmental conditions?

    3.) Time of day (avoid swimming at dawn or dusk)

    4.) Time of year (avoid periods with sardine runs, seal pupping and dead whales)

    5.) Temperature of the water (this depends on the species)

    6.) Presence of shark’s prey (avoid swimming if there are seals, dolphins, whales or baitfish nearby)

    7.) Clarity of the water (avoid swimming if the water is cloudy, muddy, or foamy)

    8.) Check to see if there is natural prey available in normal locations (consider a different location if the local area is over-fished or if boats bring in fish and dump out waste)

    What’s my behaviour?

    9.) How far out am I in the water (closer to shore is better; avoid sand reefs, drop-offs, surf zones, and outer shelves)

    10.) How long have I spent in the water (there are no guarantees, but longer can increase risk)

    11.) Whether I am swimming in a group or alone (avoid swimming alone, swim in groups)

    12.) Wearing a wetsuit/color (avoid contrasting colors like yellow, white and silver)

    13.) Wearing jewelry (avoid wearing metal or shiny jewelry)

    14.) Splashing in the water (avoid splashing when possible)

    15.) Check to see if I am near a coastal construction site, outfall or other attractants (avoid areas with sewage, active fishing, or other waste).’

  3. Wow, what’s next, sharks in a tornado? Oh hang that’s real, they made a movie about that!

    Maybe Dr Gates can educate us on how sharks use tornados to attack people, seeing as he is the expert on what causes sharks to attack surfers.

  4. I concur with Dr Richard Gates. Where IS the EPA when you them them (perhaps defending ideology not providing scientific & impartial oversight)? This fair region deserves much better. There is little point in the State grabbing power from Local Government if it fails to assess on an eco-niche basis. Local knowledge counts – perhaps it is time for the system to be overhauled – and power restored to the hands that care for and own the land concerned.


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