by Shane Williams – Bridgetown Wildlife Rescue Smokey came into care not long after the terrible fires in Bridgetown began, in February 2022. Thankfully he was not found in the fire zone, but by some young children riding their bikes on a bush track close to their home. Smokey had...
NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) have released their 2015/2016 shark net stats and the volume of animals killed is alarming. There has been a sharp increase in mortality rates for harmless and threatened marine species – among the death toll are over 100 harmless sharks, 19 turtles (all threatened with extinction), 14 dolphins and over 90 rays. These figures are not sustainable.
Ninety of the animals drowned in the nets were threatened species including some we are obliged to protect under international agreements. 11 green turtles and 5 hawksbill turtles were killed. Green turtles are ‘endangered’ and hawksbill turtles are ‘vulnerable to extinction’. How can the government happily run a program which knowingly kills these species and when the Federal Marine Turtle Recovery Plan states deaths of green turtles in shark control programs must be greatly reduced?
A ‘no nets’ rally at Ballina’s Lighthouse Beach. Photo Jeff Dawson
Even more alarming, there were 5 known deaths of the critically endangered grey nurse shark. This is really scary considering the latest studies show there are only about 1000 of these animals left on Australia’s east coast. It is obvious that the nets are doing grave harm to this species, a species that is supposed to be highly protected under Federal AND State law. Yet the government deploys nets which deliberately kill them!
All this for false peace of mind to the public. Nets are outdated, they are ineffective and statistics show that more than 60% of shark incidents occur on netted beaches.
Even the great white sharks, the intended targets of the nets, are a protected and threatened species under NSW, Commonwealth laws, the UN Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the UN Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and therefore the government has a responsibility to oversee their protection. These sharks are important top order predators, they are essential in maintaining ecosystem function; and 21 were killed last year. It is often said that an ocean without sharks is far more frightening than an ocean with them.
The government says the deaths of the turtles and the dolphins have triggered a review. But I’m not putting much hope in the review when similar reviews following the deaths of whales in the nets in previous years came to nothing?
And what of the trial of new nets destroying marine life on the NSW north coast? The latest report from DPI shows the nets around Ballina have resulted in the capture of more than 40 animals in a matter of weeks. In these new nets even more turtles, dolphins and non-target hammerhead sharks have been killed. The hammerheads are among the most captured species in the NSW shark nets despite never having been responsible for an unprovoked attack.
The report shows the nets installed at Ballina Beach (pictured above) have resulted in the capture of more than 40 animals in a matter of weeks.
With all this data mounting the government cannot sustain the nets as a solution to bather protection. On top of pollution, over-fishing, and climate change, marine wildlife cannot withstand increased pressure from shark control programs.