A series of shark attacks on the New South Wales north coast, near Byron Bay, have left plenty of people freaked out and local businesses wondering whether tourists will still flock to the seaside towns over summer.
While there were calls for a shark cull in some quarters, the NSW government has rejected the idea, instead announcing a $250,000 research program for the area to better understand the animals, including a tagging and tracking program.
Premier Mike Baird has also weighed in on the issue, revealing that he too has had an encounter with a shark in the region while surfing – and his best mate bolted for the beach, unlike Australian surfer Julian Wilson, who went to the aid of Mick Fanning when he was attacked by a great white in South Africa.
Here’s what Mike Baird said in a Facebook post today, announcing they’ll be a shark summit next month:
Let’s talk about the shark situation.
As a surfer, I’ve watched the recent shark events on the North Coast and I’ve felt them very personally.
The North Coast has some of the most beautiful, and at times fearsome, waves in the world. I have enjoyed surfing them many times myself and often marvelled how lucky we are to live in a country like this.
A while back, I even had a shark encounter near Crescent Head and, while I was lucky to escape, I should note that my best mate did the opposite of Mick Fanning’s mate Julian Wilson… when my mate saw the shark circling, he bolted to the beach! (To his credit, this was the only blemish on an otherwise impeccable best mate record.)
The reality of shark attacks has always been present, but there is no doubt it is at quite extraordinary levels on the far North Coast.
When I hear some members of board riding clubs up there are calling for a shark cull, it makes me sit up and pay attention. The surfers up there are fearless – only the bravest take on breaks like Lennox Head at 10-12 foot. Not only are they brave, these guys are keen environmentalists. They love the ocean, and they love the creatures of the ocean. And, if those guys are worried, then something must be happening.
I also totally understand that, when people see pictures of giant sharks and hear about close encounters, they get nervous and want action. But the problem is, there aren’t really any easy solutions.
From what we have seen so far in WA, it doesn’t look like shark culling has had any real effect. So, animal-rights issues aside, it isn’t certain that shark culling even works.
Here in NSW we have used shark nets along many of our beaches between Newcastle and The Gong for decades now. And in that time we have had zero shark deaths in these areas. But while the safety record is great, nets don’t just catch sharks, they catch other sea-life too. That reality is a serious concern to all of us.
There is some doubt as to whether shark nets can be effective in other areas, like the North Coast. Nets aren’t suitable for all beaches and, although we are going to look into expanding the nets, it may not be as easy as rolling more out. Again, there are environmental concerns that need to be weighed up and all of this would need to be considered by the local communities involved.
During the election, I announced we were investing money in trialling some new technologies, like sonar buoys, to help protect against sharks. This technology is in its early stages, and it has its share of problems (like figuring out how to tell the difference between a dolphin and a shark) but we are continuing to explore it and my real hope is that technological advances will eventually mean we can replace the nets altogether so we can have safe beaches with no nets required.
In fact, to help speed that process up, we are having an international summit on sharks next month and we are seeking all ideas from the best minds to ensure we are doing all we can.
In the immediate term, we are spending $250,000 ahead of spring and summer to increase surveillance and shark tagging to try and reduce the risk of further attacks.
In short, I want you to know we are doing what we can to take measured and effective action to keep our beaches as safe as we can. But it will be done based on fact, not emotion.
Our beaches and surf are an amazing part of way of life in Australia, and we all want to make sure it stays that way.
See you out in the water.
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