The NSW government has commenced a shark-monitoring program to reduce the risk of shark attacks on the NSW north coast. The $250,000 program involves on-water surveillance by the Department of Primary Industries and CSIRO together with a public education campaign.
Following a recent spate of 12 shark-related incidents in the north coast region, including two fatalities and two seriously injured surfers, there were widespread calls for a shark cull. This was rejected by the NSW government.
NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Niall Blair, told ABC Radio the shark-monitoring program has already resulted in two great white sharks being tagged in order to better understand their movements and behavior patterns.
“This program will provide vital information about sharks and their movements on the north coast,” he said. “The more information we have the better equipped we will be to implement measures to reduce the risk of further attacks.”
Ballina Shire Council lobbied the State government vigorously in support of the shark monitoring program, which will help to identify whether the same sharks are remaining in the area.
The lobbying effort is part of a wider ongoing strategy developed by the Council aimed at reducing the risk of attack. The strategy includes a joint emergency management and response program involving the Council, NSW Police and other emergency services.
Coastal safety experts say the far north coast of NSW represents a logistical challenge for public safety agencies. Activities such as rock fishing, boating and swimming are often undertaken away from beaches that are patrolled by surf lifesavers in summer.
Proposals to extend coastal surveillance operations using aerial patrols are being considered. The proposals include the use of remotely piloted aircraft systems (drones) to conduct surveillance missions for long periods over long distances. To be effective, however, the drones need to be of similar standard to military systems, which are costly and labor intensive to operate.
Barry Sammels, the Chair of the Australian Coastal Councils Association, said the Commonwealth Government should provide additional funding for programs to reduce the risk of shark attack.
“Coastal tourism makes a major contribution to the national economy,” he said. “Each year more than 6 million international tourists contribute at least $30 billion to the Australian economy. Plus there is the contribution of domestic tourism, which generates approximately $53 billion in revenues.
“The coast is one of our strongest tourism attractions, both for international and domestic visitors. In 2016 Tourism Australia’s international marketing campaign will focus on promoting our coastal attraction.
“We therefore believe the Commonwealth Government should make a greater contribution to the cost of coastal surveillance and other measures to reduce the risk of shark attack in order to maintain current levels of coastal tourism.”