Byron Bay surfer and former Greens MP Ian Cohen says that personal responsibility is the key to avoiding shark attack.
Mr Cohen, who attended Sunday’s rally against the proposed netting of Ballina’s beaches by the state government, says he trusts tactics such as wearing a ‘shark shield’ repellent device and a stripey wetsuit more than nets.
Critics, including some surfers, liken the nets to ‘hanging a handkerchief in the water’, as they do not fully enclose an area but are hung out to sea in front of a small section of the beach.
The technology, which has been in use in the Sydney, Wollongong and Newcastle areas since the 1930s, was proposed by the government after modern ‘eco-shark barriers’ failed during construction at the notoriously rough stretches of beach.
Mr Cohen said he had himself had ‘a number of close calls’ with sharks but, despite that, remains opposed to the nets.
‘The by-catch in the Queensland nets includes whales, dolphins and harmless species of sharks,’ he said.
‘They are walls of death.’
‘I always wondered what would happen if a person who was attacked at a netted beach sued the government,’ Mr Cohen said.
‘They are the worst and clumsiest solution. Even the smart drum lines – which I don’t personally support – are better than that.’
Mayor Opposes Netting
Ballina mayor David Wright agrees that, despite the recent spate of attacks, nets are not the way to go.
He said the rally attracted ‘a bigger crowd than what I thought’, adding ‘I know there were a lot of people from outside our shire there’.
Mayor Wright told ABC this morning that he hoped the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) ‘will consult widely’ and ‘try to come up with a measure that will protect beaches and wildlife – and surfers as one of the major stakeholders.’
He said that if a whale got caught in a net it would be ‘devastating for our tourism industry’.
‘The thing I do know is that the smart drum lines have caught more sharks in three months than was done in Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong over five years – and all those sharks have been tagged and released and have all left the area. And there’s been no by-catch,’ he said.
Shark Spotting Option Ignored
Meanwhile Ballina MP Tamara Smith has again criticised the state government for failing to fund the relatively cost-effective Shark Watch program while planning to sink millions into its divisive netting program.
She said shark spotting was ‘the most effective strategy identified in the Cardno review done on behalf of the DPI in 2015.
‘Smart drum lines and CleverBuoy technologies were also on that shortlist and these have been funded by the DPI – why not the number one option of shark spotting?’ Ms Smith queried.
‘Shark Watch is willing to provide a non-lethal shark detection service in time for the summer holiday season, so that residents and tourists alike know that there are beaches in Ballina where there are volunteers dedicated to spotting sharks, backed up by drone flights and a real time warning system for ocean users,’ she said
Shark Watch NSW spokesperson Andrew Nieuwenhof says his group believes combined surveillance by volunteer spotters and drones offers the best available and most cost-effective option.
‘Our short-term goal is to have five teams operational by the Christmas holiday season – a goal that requires only very modest start-up funding.
‘This would allow us to cover five sites between Lennox Point and Lighthouse Beach, and provide a valuable community service,’ Mr Nieuwenhof said.
But with summer not far away and DPI yet to make a decision on the group’s funding application it is looking to crowdfunding to get the program up and running
‘A proposal for this funding was recently presented to the NSW government. In the absence of a response so far, the Shark Watch committee unanimously agreed to begin a crowdfunding campaign to achieve their goal,’ Mr Nieuwenhof said.
The complete proposal can be found at www.preview.tinyurl.com/SWproposal