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Byron Shire
June 21, 2021

Byron council to fund Shark Watch program

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The launch of Shark Watch in Byron Bay. Jan Gilbert, sitting, and Andrew Nieuwenhof of Shark Watch NSW, with Mayor Simon Richardson at today's launch at Tallow beach. (photo Jeff Dawson)
The launch of Shark Watch in Byron Bay. Jan Gilbert, sitting, and Andrew Nieuwenhof of Shark Watch NSW, with Mayor Simon Richardson at today’s launch at Tallow beach. (photo Jeff Dawson)

Byron Shire Council is putting its money where its mouth is in providing funding for a shark spotting program by Shark Watch in the Byron shire.

The council recently rejected an offer from the state government to have shark nets installed along its coastline, whereas neighbouring Ballina shire is taking up the offer of nets.

Byron mayor Simon Richardson said his council supported non-lethal measures, and this morning announced that the council would provide funding to set up its first site at Cosy Corner, at Tallow Beach.

Shark Watch is a community group which uses volunteers and a drone to scan the sea near surfers and swimmers at beaches for any shark activity. If sharks are spotted, the group uses an agreed alert system to warn people in the area that sharks are present, so that surfers and swimmers can leave the water.

Cr Richardson told Echonetdaily that the council would provide $11,000 for the first site, with the money going to purchase a drone, sun shelter and a solar panel to power a computer that analysed pictures from the drone.

He said the council had also met with NSW Department of Primary Industries (Fisheries) about the Shark Watch program.

‘Fisheries are keen to partner with us because it sits well with their methods as drones are well and truly part of their strategy,’ Cr Richardson said.

‘We would love to have a few beaches up and going by Christmas.’

‘It was also pleasing yesterday to gain in principle support from the Department of Primary Industries-Fisheries for the community initiative and we’re keen to see Shark Watch become part of the NSW shark management strategy.

‘Working within state-wide protocols and management systems and alongside state wide organisations, will allow this community initiative to grow across the State and support ongoing education programs.

‘The program will run in conjunction with our highly valued Surf Life Saving patrols and bring new technology and surveillance training to our beaches.

‘The community looking after the community is the best outcome and the Shark Watch program can make this happen.’

NSW Shark Watch committee member, Jann Gilbert, said volunteers were very excited about the announcement and looked forward to being able to start regular patrols in time for the 2016-17 holiday season.

‘This is a great step forward in the search for alternative methods of shark detection and management.’

‘We’re extremely grateful to Byron Shire Council and local MP Tamara Smith for stepping up to support the first Shark Watch crew in Australia,’ said Jann Gilbert.

Byron Shire Council will be liaising with Cape Byron Marine Park and National Parks and Wildlife Service to help to enable the program in Byron Shire.

‘The community initiated and sustained program will support ongoing education programs and see the results shared with the Department of Primary Industries,’ Mayor Richardson said.

‘Working alongside the Department of Primary Industries, our Shire is also keen to see this become part of the NSW shark management strategy,’ he said.

Location of the Shark Watch spotters will move around beaches within Byron Shire dependent on sea and wind conditions.

Ballina MP Tamara Smith, a vocal opponent of shark nets, welcomed the announcement.

‘I am enormously encouraged to see that Byron Shire will fund Shark Watch to operate at its beaches, providing a greater level of safety to surfers and swimmers while not endangering marine life,’ Ms Smith said.

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  1. Its great to see council support this obvious and great initiative and alternative to rope shark nets that indiscriminately kill much marine life including our iconic humpback whales. In my experience the images shot by the drone could be live streamed to Youtube at certain times and people could make an informed decision at the time if they wanted to go in the water. Our very own eye in the sky.

  2. RE: SHARKWATCH: “Some of the limitations with this method include the reliance on paid staff….., topographic elevation, and the effect of glare and other water conditions on spotting ability. In addition, spotters work long shifts, which may result in significant spotter fatigue and increase the potential for human error.” – Shark Watch NSW Management Committee.10/2016
    Topograhic elevation (with a few exceptions) is a major issue with this in Byron. Far more effective for BSC to just donate the money to the local SLSCs.

  3. It’s interesting that one key element of any successful shark safety program, whether underpinned by nets or observers, that is still missing is large, clear signage at all beaches explaining to visitors how to be ‘shark smart’. These things should have gone in months ago before anything else, non lethal and effective.
    Over the next few months we are about to be inundated by visitors who are not familiar with the marine environment or its inhabitants, especially in Byron Bay and Lennox Head. And it’s pretty clear a lot of locals aren’t getting the message either, not got the DPI app I suppose. The only information these people have received on the subject so far is the scaremongering and sensationalism of the national media and the other assorted squeaky wheels.
    This means incoming tourists have no idea that there are in fact a number of quite straight forward, simple behavioral things they can do to significantly reduce their exposure to risk without having to avoid the water altogether. Large signs at every beach that could have a far greater ability to reduce the likelihood of contact or injury than any amount of nets and observation posts.
    With all the media hype about the nets being in by Christmas and the shark watch on patrol, visitors could be lulled into a false sense of security. They may not take the basic precautions that we all know we should, not that we always do. They could be mislead into believing they are somehow fully protected, and someone else has taken responsibility for their safety. The nets are only 150 metres long (hanging a handkerchief in the ocean was a great analogy) and the watchers can’t see into the murky, choppy waters of a summer storm or at first and last light.
    A large, clear sign at every beach entrance around Byron, Lennox and Ballina – simple, cheap, efficient and not reliant on the weather conditions for effectiveness. Easily done by Christmas. And the DPI already has a nice little info sheet that could easily be blown up and transposed.

  4. We keep being told how successful this program has been in South Africa. Did Simon watch the footage of a shark getting caught in Mick Fanning’s leg rope in the J-Bay final last year? Hundreds of people on the beach, drones, TV camera’s, jet ski’s. No one spotted it. A great white can swim at 40km/h. Do the math. This program is about making the green’s supporting it feel good about not making a tough decision. It wouldn’t hurt some much if it wasn’t being paid for by a 12.5% rate rise over the next four years.

  5. There has been a successful Shark Spotters program running for the past 12 years in Cape Town, South Africa http://sharkspotters.org.za
    Learning from this group might save a significant amount of money and allow your group to focus attention on initiatives that truly do save lives. For example: the use of drones, although sexy present specific challenges. Presently, the Cape Town Shark Spotters employ 2 drones and they have has issues with Battery life, wind, video signal, equipment sensitivity to sand and salt.. etc… It would be well worth taking the time to exchange ideas..
    Don Solomon

  6. If your scared of sharks go surf in the middle of the crowds at the pass like every other kind of sheeple, the ocean has sharks in it, we always knew that, its funny that the people that have their fingers in this pie of sharkwatch balony are simply trying create a job for themselves whilst virtue signalling that they have the moral upperhand by using technology to invade the one aspect of life that we as surfers hold dear, the ability to paddle out the back to get away from those dickheads. Ive been hoping for years a bit of shark action would drop the crowds, now its happened its ignited the unemployed dogooders to invade our sanctity by calling for nets and drones and all this bullshit. I see sharks all the time, grew up a keen fisherman so know what to keep my eyes out for, had whites circle me, tigers bump me, hammerheads race by me, i love seeing them in their environment, leave them and us alone and stick your annoying drones up your beurocratic behinds. Im getting my slingshot ready.


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