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August 14, 2022

Call to trial shark technologies in Ballina waters

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Greens MP for Ballina, Tamara Smith.
Greens MP for Ballina, Tamara Smith.

Ballina beaches should be among the first to trial some of the new shark repellent technologies being discussed at today’s shark summit in Sydney, according to Ballina MP Tamara Smith.

The meeting, set up by surfer-premier Mike Baird will see experts from as far afield as the US and South Africa making presentations on a range of non-lethal shark mitigation methods.

The summit will also examine the results of the recently completed independent review into shark deterrent technologies.

Ms Smith said Ballina was ‘on the front line of a new approach to sharks, an approach that recognises conservation of these important creatures has to go hand in hand with protecting ocean users.’

‘The summit outcomes will be presented to the Ballina Shark Mitigation Working Group but I’m putting out the call that the north coast should be one of the areas where new technology options are trialled,’ Ms Smith said.

‘The summit information may also provide valuable information to the current parliamentary inquiry I am sitting on into the management of sharks in NSW.

‘It is important to note that there remains political consensus that culling sharks is not the answer and culling and shark nets are not part of the discussion when it comes to any shark management trials.

‘The future of shark management is with non-lethal deterrents and better education for the community, Ms Smith said.’

Lethal methods opposed

University of Sydney ocean research scientist Dr Christopher Neff. Photo saveourseas.com
University of Sydney ocean research scientist Dr Christopher Neff. Photo saveourseas.com

Her comments fall closely on the heels of an independent survey in which more than 80 per cent of Ballina and Byron shire residents interviewed said they did not want to see lethal shark deterrence methods used in our waters.

Sydney University’s Dr Christopher Neff, who conducted the survey, said that in the three years he had been working in the field of shark deterrence, he failed to find public sentiment for lethal methods such as culls and drumlines that matched the political rhetoric.

That experience was replicated again when he surveyed Ballina electorate residents following this year’s spate of shark attacks and shark sightings, and Dr Neff said the results were conclusive.

‘The public… specifically don’t want methods that kill sharks,’ he told local media.

Dr Neff’s research involved random surveys of 500 residents in the region, surveys of 100 businesses and 100 Ballina beachgoers.

The question was: ‘when shark bites happen, how do you think NSW government should respond’.

The first response was more research, the second was implementation of non-lethal methods and the third, from a smaller percentage, was installing shark nets.

‘The data showed that people are absolutely concerned but they did not believe that killing sharks was the answer,’ Dr Neff told ABC radio.

In the survey, a remarkable 83 per cent of people opposed using lethal methods.

In addition, 55 per cent of people surveyed believed shark bites were usually accidental, not intentional.

Dr Neff said he was hopeful that lessons would be learnt from today’s summit but warned there would be no quick fix solution.

‘The ocean is a dynamic ecosystem, it is changing all the time, and we can’t domesticate it.’

He added that the waters in Cape Town, which has a similar problem with great whites, were very different to the north coast, with clear water and steep cliffs making shark spotting much easier.

Dr Neff said Australia needed a plan for shark awareness like we have for encountering brown snakes in the bush and in Queensland waters where surfers wear stinger suits during the summer season.

Byron beach surveillance

Meanwhile Byron Shire Council is trialling aerial surveillance from a low-flying gyrocopter during the final days of the school holidays this week.

The spotter chopper will be in addition to the once-daily flyover by a Lismore-based fixed-wing aircraft.

Weather permitting, the flights start from 10am through until 4pm and provide instant shark sighting reports radioed back to local lifeguards.

‘The reports will include photos, location, movement direction, size and shark species where possible.  Plus, we are also endeavouring to have a lifeguard on board the flights to assist with the communications,’ Byron mayor Simon Richardson said.

Mayor Richardson said the council-funded service was being provided by a local operator who specialises in gyrocopters.

‘The small open-cockpit helicopter can easily cover wide areas without the need to refuel for about 4.5 hours. And they have the ability to move as slow as 20 knots, at heights as low as 300 feet.

‘With the ability to move slow and low, the aircraft offer a unique ability to observe what is happening out in the water and alert the lifeguards who in turn will alert beach goers.

‘Hopefully over the next week we can learn a bit more about what is happening in our oceans and help alleviate some concern for residents and visitors,’ Cr Richardson said.

More stories on the NSW shark summit

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Ballina's mayor David Wright has been excluded from a shark summit in Sydney tomorrow but is confident that a further summit in October will provide answers to the shark menace threatening the far north coast.

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Ballina businesses surveyed about shark impacts

Ballina business owners have until tomorrow to have their say on how shark attacks in the area have impacted on their businesses.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. This is TOTAL nonsense !
    It is unfortunate for the few that are impacted by shark interaction but…..More people are killed by Bee sting or lightning strike.
    There is a cost effective system available to eliminate even these extremely low numbers of accidents.
    Stay out of the water, especially at times and places where sharks are feeding.
    If you can’t manage that ,then just ‘man’ up, take a small risk.
    G”)

  2. It is great that action is being taken. If you follow the shark reports Facebook page or talk to surfers who surf most days you will be aware that the number of interactions are not normal, and the risks are far greater than than the old slogans suggest. A recent WA study showed that the risks in Spring of a shark attack there are 1 in 15,000 per water session, if in high risk areas and more than 5m of water. A bit different to the risks of a bee sting every time you go outside. Much lower risks in other areas and times of the year, but the reality is that the ‘more chances of dying by a bee sting’ argument isn’t true in Ballina right now. When long time local surfers are driving their kids to the gold coast for a safe surf, something is up. Another encounter yesterday at Boulders, close calls are almost a daily occurrence. I know a lot of people who have cancelled holidays. Local economy will suffer. It’s only a matter of time until another attack which will create more negative PR. So solutions need to be found. it could take years for people to feel safe again. Our values have shifted over the past few decades, so now the majority want the apex predator protected at all costs, while we continue to over fish their food sources. The reality is that the carefree days we spent at the beach floating around in the water might not be so carefree for our kids, and their kids. Hopefully there are no more attacks and the sharks move on and people forget. But there must be a plan for the case that this does not happen.

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