By Melissa Morrissey
Until late last year, installing shark nets along the NSW north coast was illegal. That was until the Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg granted a rare exemption, stating it was a matter of “national interest” that the nets be installed as soon as possible.
The Minister’s reasoning was that the recent spate of shark sightings and attacks was impacting on local tourism, with shops reporting decreased sales and nippers’ clubs recording drops in annual registrations.
But the lethal impact of this decision has been devastating. In the first month of the controversial nets being installed, 42 marine animals were caught and 12 of these were killed. The kill included a bottlenose dolphin, a green turtle, Australian cownose rays, longtail tuna, and hammerhead and bull sharks.
The state-wide results for 2015/2016 are even more alarming.
In one year, the shark nets at 51 beaches between Wollongong and Newcastle caught 748 marine animals, of which nearly 50% (364) were killed. That’s a fourfold increase in the number of marine animals caught and a 300% increase in the number found dead in the nets. What’s more, 86% of those caught were threatened or protected species – animals that posed no threat to humans.
Over the years since the nets were first installed in NSW, more than 15,000 animals have been killed.
The NSW government knows these statistics only too well. The evidence and recommendations against shark netting programs from within the DPI’s own ranks are long standing. As far back as 2004, the NSW Fisheries Scientific Committee reported that shark nets adversely affected threatened species. The Committee concluded the netting process qualified as a “Key Threatening Process”, and recommended it be included in the Fisheries Management Act 1994.
As well as threatening precious marine life, the nets do not work to stop shark attacks. Most of those attacked have been surfers who are out beyond the nets. And many of the sharks caught in the nets have been found on the beach goers’ side.
What’s more, the nets do not create an enclosed barrier for bathers. They are only 150 meters long and 6 metres deep. The nets are suspended in water about 10 to 12 metres deep, so sharks can swim under, over or around the nets.
It should be remembered that the chance of a shark attack is actually incredibly rare. You are more likely to be killed by a vending machine or a bee sting than a shark.
The broader damage created by shark nets to the delicate ecological balance of the ocean and its marine life is far greater than any risk to humans.
Please add your voice to the campaign to save our previous marine life. Sign the petition to stop the death nets: https://actionsprout.io/CF26E3/initial