You’d be forgiven for thinking that the very existence of national environmental laws creates an obligation on Environment Ministers to protect the environment. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Instead, their obligations are limited by the objects and duties that are specified in the law. And in the case of our...
May 1 was the day the NSW Department of Primary Industries mandated as the beginning of the whale migration, and therefore the day before shark nets were pulled out of the water in NSW.
For a few months, dolphins won’t need to echolocate around a silent trap; for a few months, turtles won’t bumble into an inescapable fate, and for a few months hammerhead pups won’t become hopelessly tangled and drown.
Shark nets were first installed in Sydney in the 1930s and were even then never meant to be a barrier. Their sole purpose, then and now, is to provide public safety by reducing the local shark population. Make no mistake about it, this is a cull by any definition.
Footage HSI/AMCS/N McLachlan
The problem is that shark nets, and specifically culling, does not reduce the risk of shark bite. Scientific evidence shows no link between the abundance of sharks and the safety of ocean users. In fact, since their introduction, 33 shark-human interactions have occurred on beaches in NSW outfitted with shark nets. They provide nothing more than a false sense of security, and at a huge cost.
Shark nets are the most indiscriminate and deadly of the culling methods used in Australia. We have yet to see the death toll for the 2018/2019 season, as the data is due for release in July, but last season’s shocking statistics included the catch of:
• 20 Grey Nurse Sharks, 10 killed (a Critically Endangered, non-target species)
• 78 Smooth Hammerheads, 77 killed (a harmless, non-target species)
• 3 Great Hammerheads, all killed (an Endangered, non-target species)
• 4 Common Dolphins, all killed; 3 Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins, all killed (State and Federally protected species)
• &26 White Sharks, 14 killed (Threatened species)
• 9 Green Turtles, 7 killed (Threatened species – Vulnerable); 2 Hawksbill Turtles, both killed (Critically Endangered); 2 Leatherback Sea Turtles, released alive (Threatened species – Vulnerable); 1 Olive Ridley Turtle, killed (Threatened species – Vulnerable)
• 172 Rays, 31 killed, 141 released alive (Protected species/Non-Target species)
• 3 Port Jackson Sharks, 1 dead, 2 released alive (Non-Target species)
Shark nets in NSW have killed 804 animals since 2016, the majority of which have been threatened and harmless sharks and rays, turtles and dolphins.
Let this be the last we see of the nets.
NSW Department of Primary Industries have shown promising progress in recent years, implementing non-lethal alternatives for bather protection. Education campaigns, tests of drone surveillance, and the initiation of SMART drumlines trails earlier this year show a hopeful trend.
SMART drumlines, though not without their own impact on the oceans, are a significant improvement over the shark nets in terms of wildlife deaths. It is our hope that the trials of SMART drumlines on Sydney’s Northern Beaches follows the pattern set by similar trials of shark nets and SMART drumlines on NSW’s North Coast. Beginning in 2016, these two techniques were trialled side by side at Lennox Head, Ballina, and Evans Head, and data was presented to the public displaying the shocking difference in the amount of bycatch and wildlife deaths between the two. After a brief period of community consultation, it was clear that residents of the North Coast were outraged by the wildlife cost of the nets and they were removed.
Now is the time for us to raise our voices together a ditch the nets in Sydney for good.
A marine ecologist specialising in conservation, research and outreach, Lawrence has spent years working with wildlife, the ocean and the public to engender sustainable relationships between them. He has worked as a field biologist, environmental consultant, naturalist and project coordinator with a BA from the University of San Diego, and an MSc from James Cook University. Lawrence’s work at HSI is currently focused on shark welfare and protection, specifically in regards to culling and control programs, overexploitation, and international protection.