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Byron Shire
May 16, 2022

Shark spotting solution considered at public meeting

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The Shark Spotters program uses flags to warn beach users of the presence of sharks. (Sea Shepherd)
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Emily Pierce

Besides the NSW government’s $16 million program – barriers, a phone app and tagging – another option to address shark attacks has been aired at Ballina recently.

All the way from another shark hotspot – Cape Town, South Africa – the Shark Spotters team held a community meeting last month in East Ballina to explain their strategy to reduce attacks.

The team were also keen to see if their program could work in Byron Bay, Lennox Head, Ballina and even Sydney.

So what is it? A ‘spotter’ is placed at a high location above the beach with polarised sunglasses and binoculars.

This spotter is in radio contact with another spotter on the beach. If a shark is seen, the beach spotter sounds a siren and raises a flag with a shark logo on it.

When the siren sounds, the water users are requested to leave the water and only return when the appropriate all-clear signal is given.

At South Africa’s monitored beaches there are four spotters per beach.

While committed to the barriers at Lighthouse Beach, Ballina mayor David Wright said he would support the concept being referred to the department of primary industries (DPI), and approval would need to be made by its Shark Mitigation Committee.

‘The government has spent three million dollars on two barriers recently,’ he said.

Shark Spotter Sarah Waries told the crowd that Cape Town has one exclusion barrier and it is quite different to the ones now used in NSW.

‘The exclusion barrier in Cape Town gets removed from the ocean daily and checked for marine life. It has a small mesh size of only four centimetres.’

Ms Waries also said that identifying trends and risk factors are key.

‘Sharks prey in warm water, at dusk, and during the new moon. Educating the public to be ‘shark smart’ is crucial, not to surf in dirty river mouths or at dusk – to use common sense basically.’

On the topic of tagging, the Shark Spotters team say they tag in South Africa, and one shark was reported to have travelled as far as Australia and back to South Africa on one occasion. Given that they travel such large distances, ‘shark culling is no use’.

Shark Spotters has been running for 12 years, and Ms Waries says the public’s attitude has changed dramatically over time for the good.

‘People are a lot calmer and very positive,’ she said. ‘There has been a shift in the media reports as well,’ Ms Waries, ‘towards a more positive approach to shark news and not just the shark attacks.’

There was great feedback within the crowd at the meeting, which included locals, fishermen, surfers and surf lifesavers, all looking like they wanted to get involved.

Shark Spotters said there might be a feasibility trial, if the community is interested. Those interested can contact the team through the following websites http://sharkspotters.org.za,  http://www.seashepherd.org.au or http://www.nonswsharkcull.net.

Emily Pierce is doing work experience at The Echo.


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