Environment Minister Greg Hunt has announced a $23.9 million research project which is aimed at reducing the risk of shark attacks.
Minister Hunt said the project, headed by a research team at the University of Tasmania, will develop a national population assessment of great white sharks and examine initiatives to mitigate the risk of shark attacks.
“Conducted by the Marine Biodiversity Hub based in Hobart, the research will take place in Australia’s temperate marine waters and lead to better management and protection of our coastal and marine environments,” Mr. Hunt told the Mercury.
“White sharks are listed as vulnerable under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act yet there is still no effective way to assess their numbers.
“The recent spate of shark attacks on the NSW coast highlights the need for better information on the status of shark populations to assist policy development for both conservation and public safety.”
The research team at the University of Tasmania is headed by Professor Nic Bax and will be conducted in association with other research institutions from around Australia.
Prof Bax said the research project would involve 100 scientists working with satellite, underwater robots and genetic profiling. He said data showed an increase in shark attacks in Australia but it was unclear if the shark population had increased.
“We have a third of the world’s sharks in Australian waters,” Prof Bax told the Mercury. “White sharks are responsible for the majority of attacks and we really don’t know if their population is increasing.”
The announcement follows lobbying by the Australian Coastal Councils Association in September, which was aimed at gaining additional funding from the Commonwealth to address the issue.
The launch of the Commonwealth research initiative also follows an announcement of a $16 million strategy by the NSW Government which is aimed at reducing the risk of shark attacks along the NSW coastline.
The NSW strategy, announced by Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair, includes the use of eco-friendly barrier nets, aerial surveillance by helicopter and drones, and expanded research into new technology for shark detection and deterrence.
Minister Niall Blair said the plan includes the use of shark tracking stations to relay information on the movement of tagged sharks to surf lifesavers. It also includes a mobile phone app which can provide real-time tracking of tagged sharks on mobile phones and tablets using 4G technology.
Minister Blair said the five-year strategy is a world first which had been developed following a summit of shark experts held in Sydney in September. He said after considering the advice provided by the experts the government was implementing a multi-faceted approach to the issue.