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Byron Shire
March 22, 2023

Evidence-based solutions to shark mitigation ignored

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The eco shark barrier at Western Australia's Coogee Beach is similar to the one being installed at Lighthouse Beach. Photo Eco Shark Barriers
Eco shark barriers like this one at Western Australia’s Coogee Beach are unsuitable for ‘high energy’ beaches such as Lennox Head and Lighthouse Beach. Photo Eco Shark Barriers

Natalie Banks

In January 2014, the first of many rallies against the Western Australian (WA) shark cull took place across the nation and eventually the globe. During this time, I have watched with alarm the way Governments within Australia have attempted to reduce shark encounters.

Three years on and it appears that the WA Government is getting the balance right with eco-friendly shark barriers being installed at various beaches throughout the state, the locally developed Shark Shield now being strongly supported throughout Australia and trials of sonar technology (again locally developed) taking place. However, the Barnett Government is still killing sharks posing a “serious threat” in the false belief that it will reduce shark encounters throughout the state. There is no science or example of this method actually reducing shark encounters, and unfortunately it is a misguided belief of the Premier.

In New South Wales (NSW), the story is a little different. Although I was ecstatic about the announcement of a $16m non-lethal trial of modern programs and products in October 2015, it appears that the state’s Department of Primary Industries (DPI), along with Ballina Shire Council are content with throwing any ‘solution’ towards reducing the current cluster of shark encounters in northern New South Wales, and in turn wasting taxpayer money.

Eco-friendly shark barriers for example are proving to work at low-medium energy beaches in Western Australia.  However, instead of replicating this idea in New South Wales and trialling it at suitable beaches that already have shark nets, DPI and Ballina Council were adamant to install these barriers at high-energy beaches instead. Many people, myself included, advised the Department of Primary Industries that a barrier at high-energy beaches such as Lighthouse Beach in Ballina and Seven Mile Beach in Lennox Head would not be suitable; but our concerns, along with those of the local surfers regarding the placement of one of the barriers, fell on deaf ears.

As expected, the trials of the eco-friendly barriers in high-energy beaches were not successful. This doesn’t mean that these type of barriers cannot work at other beaches within NSW, and the very fact that they haven’t been considered at low-medium energy beaches in the state, given the 43 unwanted shark encounters at netted beaches in New South Wales, along with the environmental impacts, is alarming.

More recently, the Ballina Shire Council recently received funding from the New South Wales Government to install an observation tower at Sharpes Beach from the Department of Industries. These towers are being installed along the NSW Coastline, with the most recent installation being at Bombo Beach on the South-Coast just last week. Measuring approximately three meters in height, these towers are minuscule in comparison to the height advantages used by Shark Spotters in Cape Town, South Africa.

This highly successful program uses height advantages from cliffs and mountains measuring between 50 to 100m. This  particular program was recommended by scientists to the NSW Government as the number one option for shark attack mitigation in the state. Yet, over a year later, there has not been a permanent program in place which utilises heights such as those made available at Pat Morgan Lookout at Lennox Point or the cliffs at Wategos Beach in Byron Bay or the use of dedicated signage and flags as well as emergency trauma training and kits at any beach in NSW.

The question must be asked why? Why would Ballina Council ignore the recommendations made by scientists and a professional shark mitigation operation which has literally saved a man’s life from a shark attack (as well as many more through the focus on education and prevention). Sharpes Beach offers little in the way of elevation and this was noted from the representatives of Shark Spotters when they visited Ballina, Byron Bay and Evans Head in March last year.

Perhaps it is to do with the fact that Ballina Council voted to ignore the report that Shark Spotters compiled for the region. Because as far as I can see, there is no evaluation criteria that wouldn’t be met by the Department of Primary Industries, if Ballina Council requested this tower at Lennox Point instead.

After three years of witnessing the waste of money and ridiculous political decisions made in this area, I have grown weary and wary of expecting sensible and evidence-based solutions to the issue of shark bite mitigation. Western Australia today, gives me some hope that perhaps in another three years, the northern-part of New South Wales will eventually get the balance right also.

Natalie Banks is the Founder of No Shark Cull Inc.

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  1. The answer to your questions is quite straight forward as it was also the reason for the federal minister’s required approval, it’s about tourism and image and has little to do with actually protecting anyone’s safety otherwise, as you say, there would be adequate signage on the beaches not trumpeting the wonders of mesh nets but how people can look after their own safety and minimize the potential for an unwanted encounter. The only signs I’ve seen are those bragging about the nets, perhaps because proper safety signs indicate that a tourists worst fears might be realized (irrespective of the very slim chance) and we can’t have the tourists thinking that can we, even if that’s the truth?
    Does the DPI honestly think the fine print at the bottom of the signs telling people to go to the DPI website to find out more, i.e.how to maximize your safety in the water, is a realistic expectation for tourists trotting down for their sunrise/sunset swim in paradise?
    Interestingly, if you read the federal ministers reasons for approval of the mesh nets, it refers to to the damage shark encounters have been doing to our international reputation as a destination and the need to allay fears among international tourists; a fear brought about by the manner in which recent events have been reported in the media. Nothing about safety and nothing about REAL threats to public safety, just the need to combat the image that has been created by sensationalist media reports worldwide.
    The greatest irony on any logical reading of the approval is its primary focus is international image and the vast majority of international tourists come to Byron Bay, couldn’t find Ballina with a map and Byron Shire doesn’t have any nets. Why, because apparently businesses in Byron feel that putting the nets in would, surprise, surprise, cause harm to Byron’s international image, the very thing the federal minister used to justify his decision to allow the nets, in Ballina Shire, confused yet?
    And all this despite a direct threat to public safety being identified, and used in the past, as a key justification for suspending the operation of the Act in respect of key threatening processes for threatened and endangered species. So, in truth that was all the minister needed to say, so why didn’t he?

  2. Our tourist trade is far more important than the lives of a few sharks, not to mention the lives and limbs of our local surfers. The oceans are full of sharks, there’s no place for foolish sentimentality over these creatures. Cull them all!

  3. I’m fitting Rpela housings to all wooden SUPs and surfboards I make. https://www.rpela.com/
    A multi-pronged approach is best with everyone doing something to reduce the possibility of shark bite. Drones, eco barriers, personal deterrents, swimming in patrolled areas and at sensible times of the day. Spookiest place I have surfed was up South Stradbroke Island near Jumpinpin with no-one in sight.
    I didn’t realise how many nets, drum lines and other devices are deployed till I saw this, Queensland is really old school, NSW and WA are putting in a big effort.

  4. Answers are many, varied and different, some with teeth and some without as we draw the net tight on our quarry the shark while he hunts us while between the tides he smells flesh in the water. He was made by God and is part of the environment and needs to be protected from us, and we need to be protected from him for tourism on our beaches to flourish and for it to grow without fear.
    We need to feel safe in the water and yet there must be some trepidation as we enter the water for without the fear of sharks we still can die from drowning. Flags and patrols need to be well sighted so beachgoers can see that they are cared for and that professional lifesavers are near with a phone for an ambulance. This safety link on the sand is to show that when you enter the ocean you are entering a new world, the world of the shark. Be aware of where and when you swim, swim between the flags.

  5. As someone who was born in Lennox Head, I feel that tourism and development is changing our town for the worst. This area was once about lifestyle and community, ask any local how they feel about peak tourist season?! We hate it! Stop using ‘toursim’ and ‘economy’ as an excuse! We don’t want more tourism! The area is populated enough for people to make a comfortable living. If you don’t like it, move to the Gold Coast where people value money over living.


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