Dean Jefferys has probably spent more of his life at sea than on land.
He has a special connection to the ocean and its inhabitants.
Dean has travelled far and wide in his ship, Migaloo 2 and campaigns tirelessly for ocean conservation. He is particularly passionate about the devastating effect of shark nets.
Migaloo 2 is currently docked in the beautiful town of Brunswick Heads. But that doesn’t mean Dean has stopped working. He recently organised a protest against shark nets at the Quicksilver Pro Surf competition and is an outspoken advocate for marine life on social media and in the local Byron community.
AFD recently had the amazing opportunity to sit down with Dean and ask him about his efforts.
When did you first start campaigning on marine conservation issues?
I first started connecting with whales about 13 years ago in Hervey Bay. I hired a catamaran with a friend and we spent a week with the whales. So it was through that connection of spending close and intimate time with the whales on the water which led me to seeing some of the problems which they were facing – like shark nets.
This one time we were at anchor up in Hervey Bay and a whale swam by with parts of a shark net caught in its fins and on its back. So I guess I’ve been campaigning against the shark nets ever since. I’m still just amazed that they’re in the water. The whole thing is built on fear and misinformation. How it still exists today and how people allow that to happen, I don’t understand.
We’ve had a senate committee hearing, a national senate meeting about shark mitigation and they came up with the recommendations that the nets don’t offer any safety. They’re a placebo, they’re a false sense of security. And the non-lethal alternatives are not only much more effective but they don’t kill hundreds of marine creatures every year.
Both Queensland and NSW and the federal government still aren’t listening to the science and implementing the recommendations by the senate committee – it’s beyond me. The only thing that I can possibly think of as to why they’re still doing this is because they’ve been living a lie for so long, they have to keep perpetuating the lie. If they said “oh actually the shark nets don’t work, we’ve been pulling your leg the whole time”, then they’ll look pretty silly. But also if they’re serious about bather safety they’re going to have to bite the bullet at some point and recognise that these shark nets just don’t work and start implementing more effective non-lethal alternatives.
What are some of the non-lethal alternatives you’re advocating for?
The most obvious one is drone technology. I’m a drone pilot and I’ve seen whales and even sharks from the drone. It’s the eyes in the sky. It’s cheap and it’s simple.
You’ve got surf clubs with a lot of young people who would just love to get their hands on a drone and spend all day looking for sharks. They’re incredibly efficient. They’re starting to roll them out a little bit in NSW and really it’s the most obvious thing to do. There’s other things to do too – there’s sonar systems of tagging sharks that sends a signal to a satellite so you can get real time tracking of the sharks. Nothing is ever 100%. But you know, crossing the road is not 100% safe either.
There’s the education side of it too. There should be signs up at popular beaches telling people to be shark smart. Don’t swim in a river mouth when it’s muddy and murky at sunset. Just simple stuff – look out for signs like bait balls. Education is a really big thing.
The tourist trade is also probably a factor. They don’t want to put up signs saying “beware of sharks at sunset” because they’re worried about the tourist dollar. But they are potentially shooting themselves in the foot because if they don’t implement these more effective alternatives, they might have an unwanted shark encounter. Then they won’t have anything to back themselves up with.
People are getting bitten all the time in areas where there’s shark nets already. So the old argument that “oh we haven’t had anyone dying in a netted area” is so flawed. Humans aren’t usually on a shark’s menu anyway so the risk of a shark attack is very small.
Hundreds of marine creatures die in the nets – including whales. They’re mammals like us, they need air to breathe. The images I’ve seen of a baby Humpback Whale struggling and nearly drowning in one of these nets just last year. While the Mother is freaking out about its baby drowning in front of it. And for the government to still run this story about the shark nets being effective shark mitigation control – it’s just crap.
Did you grow up near the ocean?
I was brought up on the north shore in Sydney and I was surfing everyday. I’ve got a really special relationship with the ocean, with dolphins, whales and more recently – the sharks.
I’ve really started to see the sharks as the amazing creatures they are. I’ve been diving out at Julian Rocks and I’ve seen them. I’m yet to meet a big shark but I’d love to. 99% of my fear around a shark encounter isn’t there anymore. But when you look at the statistics, it’s not based on reality. If they wanted to eat humans, there’d be a lot more than 10 people dying every year –there’d be thousands. You’ve just got to get over that mindset of being part of the food chain.
If you could give a message to people about helping marine life, what would it be?
Whenever you’ve got an opportunity to raise awareness – do it. Speak out for the whales and the sharks, the turtles, the dolphins and the stingrays that don’t have a voice. The message that I’m getting from them is “stop living in fear – embrace love and embrace loving your fellow creature, rather than being scared by it.”
To find out more about Dean’s work, please visit: www.migaloo2.com