This article has been written following recent calls for the NSW Government to introduce shark nets at Ballina after the attack at Light House Beach.
Most people will have heard of beaches in NSW that use shark nets. Most people would also believe that these shark nets are effective at keeping beach-goers safe, but this is not true. Despite what many think, the nets (sometimes referred to as ‘meshing’) are ineffective in reducing attacks, let alone preventing sharks from entering a swimming zone. They are used as a method of ‘deterrence’, but have also previously openly been installed as a method of culling – both of which result in the death of thousands of sharks and other marine animals every year.
WHERE ARE THEY?
Image: NSW DPI
WHY THEY’RE NOT EFFECTIVE:
According to the Fisheries Scientific Community “approximately 40% of shark entanglements occur on the beach side of the nets, because sharks are able to swim over and around the nets.” This means that not only are sharks able to get over the nets quite easily, but dead animals are left tangled on the inside of nets, drawing sharks over to feed on them. This was confirmed by a spokesperson for the Australian Institute of Marine Rescues, Jonah Cooper, who stated that “Quite easily they’ve [sharks] passed through the barrier there to hone in on a tuna as a scent attracting piece of bait.”
We also know that they are not effective, as “63% of shark attacks at ocean beaches in New South Wales have occurred at netted beaches.” – The Conversation
AREN’T THEY A DETERRENT?
The reason communicated to the public for the implementation of nets is to ‘deter’ sharks from setting up a territory at the beach. A NSW Fisheries minister once announced that the “nets act as a deterrent to sharks setting up territories by encouraging them to move along”. However, it is unsupported in scientific studies that sharks set up ‘territories’ as they swim vast distances everyday. This has also been proven in the trial of tag/tow methods, where sharks were proven not to return to the site they were caught, meaning they usually do not form a connection to a specific location. Not to mention, as stated above, if dead carcasses of animals trapped in the nets are drawing sharks towards those beaches, then surely they’re not a deterrent.
A THREAT TO ENDANGERED ANIMALS:
Shark meshing programs have caught and killed thousands of sharks since they have been introduced. In a statement released by the Fisheries Scientific Community: “In the 52 years from 1950 to 2002, more than 11,500 sharks were caught and killed in the nets, with annual shark deaths during this period ranging from 648 to 69 sharks”. In the last 52 years, 8,000 non-dangerous species of sharks have been caught in the nets. It also states that the nets adversely affect two shark species listed as under threat by the Fisheries Management Act 1994: The grey nurse shark and great white shark.
A study by Sea Shepherd showed the endangered Grey Nurse shark as the number 1 species caught in nets NSW.
An annual performance report for the 2014/15 nets conducted by the NSW Department of Primary Industries recognised that 77% of marine life caught were accounted for by turtles, dolphins and other marine life they were designed not to catch. These include Dugongs, endangered Loggerhead turtles, Green turtles, vulnerable Leatherback turtles, Humpback Whales and vulnerable Australian fur-seals (NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995).
This information qualifies shark meshing as a key threatening process to native wildlife, in Schedule 6 of the Fisheries Management Act 1994, as recognised by the NSW Government Office of Environment and Heritage. For this reason, it is extremely questionable why they are still so openly implemented along the east coast of Australia.
Barriers on the other hand, such as the Eco Shark Barrier, are designed to safely separate swimmers from marine life. Their website states that they performed “a four month trial of the barrier at Coogee Beach in Western Australia ( December 2013 – April 2014). The barrier performed well- it remained intact and was resilient to sea conditions. There were no swimmer injuries, no marine life entrapment, no erosion, no seaweed build up and no issues with boats or other watercraft. In addition, the barrier received strong public support-94 percent of 500 survey respondents said the barrier provided them a safe swimming area and reduced the risk of a shark encounter.” The barrier was at mid-construction at Light House Beach during the time the recent attack occurred, but was smashed by strong waves, currents and sand movement. This caused the barrier to break and leave debris across the beach, which created a large degree of criticism. However, the barrier still has much potential to be used at beaches with more suitable conditions.
Global Marine Enclosures are also a shark barrier company working towards creating eco-friendly methods to safely separate swimmers from sharks. They have implemented an Aquarius Barrier and Bionic Barrier at multiple beaches, which features a “robust nylon struts that give it structure in the water, preventing the entanglement of marine animals such as dolphins, whales, dugongs, turtles, and rays. There has never been an incident of marine by-catch or entanglement in an Aquarius Barrier.” It is eco friendly, strong/durable, cost-effective and made in Australia. The Aquarius Barrier is currently installed at Middleton Beach, WA.
Article feature image: chasinglinnaeus.tumblr.com