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HomeLatest NewsShark net debate resurfaces

Shark net debate resurfaces

Over 100 people attended a rally on Manly Beach on 1 September to oppose the reinstallation of shark nets on the morning they were being reinstalled at Manly Beach.

Coinciding with the first day of summer, nets were reintroduced to 51 beaches from Wollongong in the south to Newcastle in the north for the annual eight months of the Shark Meshing Program.

The nets, overseen by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and covering the peak public swimming season from 1 September to 30 April, measure 150 metres in length and six metres in depth, and are anchored several hundred metres offshore.

This shark carcass was removed from the shark net at Manly Beach in March 2021.

Campaigners believe the nets are a psychological comfort for bathers and not a genuine deterrent, because sharks bound for shore can easily swim over or around them. Humane Society International claim 40 per cent of sharks are caught in the nets on their way back out from the beach.

However, the nets entangle other marine creatures, such as turtles, seals, rays and dolphins, a significant proportion of which are drowned.

Whales undertaking the annual cetacean migration are also at risk from the nets, especially newborn calves that swim closer to shore.

The NSW Govt committed $16 million over five years to do research into the best way for shark mitigation while reducing danger to other marine creatures. The research suggested a range of different approaches, detailed here, with unfavourable evidence for the nets with regard to marine creatures.  Two years on, however, all 51 shark nets remain.

The rally, addressed by NSW Greens MP Cate Faehrmann, was also attended by representatives from the Australian Marine Conservation Society, Animal Justice Party, Humane Society International, Sea Shepherd Australia and the Surfrider Foundation.

“It’s time we were honest that shark nets do nothing to keep beach-goers safe,” Ms Faehrmann said.” What they do is indiscriminately kill marine animals, including threatened wildlife, while lulling swimmers into a false sense of security.

“We’re calling for non-lethal, evidence based solutions that keep as many people safe as possible while respecting our oceans and all marine life, including sharks.

“Our plan includes investment in community based observer programs, tagging and monitoring programs and personal deterrent devices.”

NSW Greens MP Cate Faerhmann with Matt Waters of Scuba Goat podcast at Manly Beach. Photo: Alec Smart

Prior to the rally, on 15 August 2022, Animal Justice Party MP Emma Hurst tabled a petition in the Legislative Council with a Change.org campaign of nearly 120,000 signatures requesting the removal of both nets and baited drumlines.

Susan Sorensen, leader of Animal Justice Party Northern Beaches, said, “here on the Northern Beaches we care deeply about our oceans and that means respecting marine wildlife and their right to live. That’s why last year the Northern Beaches Council spoke on our community’s behalf and lobbied the State Government to remove these deadly nets.”

In April 2021 Northern Beaches Council voted to remove the shark nets along Sydney’s northern coastline from Manly to Palm Beach. However, the decision to actually remove them remains with the NSW DPI.

Ray snagged in a shark net. Photo: Swellnet

Net facts

According to the DPI, “Shark meshing on Sydney beaches began in 1937 to reduce the numbers of sharks and thereby reduce the risk of shark attacks. Originally beaches from Palm Beach to Cronulla were meshed. In 1949 beaches in Wollongong and Newcastle were added, with Central Coast beaches added in 1987…

“Since 1973, the nets have had a stretched mesh size of 50 to 60 cm, have been 150 m long, six metres deep, set on the bottom in approximately 10 m of water, and usually located 400 to 500 m off shore.”

The DPI also manages the Shark Smart program, which includes an app that informs the public of shark activity around beaches.

Shark Smart involves a number of measures: Surf Life Saving NSW’s drone surveillance program; electronic tagging of large sharks; and drumline technology that baits and catches sharks regarded as a threat to humans. Professional responders in boats then tag the individual sharks before releasing them away from beaches and populated areas.

Ms Sorensen of Animal Justice Party Northern Beaches claimed, “Between 2012–20 in the Northern Beaches alone, shark nets have killed 18 whales and dolphins, 21 sea turtles, 27 other non-target sea inhabitants and 224 protected or endangered species.”

Grey nurse sharks, critically endangered but no threat to humans, are often drowned in nets. Photo: Joe Lencioni/Wikimedia

The DPI admit on their webpage that the nets impact endangered species.

“Shark meshing is undertaken along certain beaches in NSW for bather protection, unfortunately the nets used also catch non-targeted species, such as grey nurse shark and other threatened marine mammals. For this reason the shark meshing program is listed as a key threatening process.”

Statistics released by the DPI at the end of July 2022 in their Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program 2021/22 Annual Performance Report revealed an alarming number of non-target marine life caught and killed in the netting over one summer.

376 marine creatures were caught over eight months from September 2021 to April 2022, of which 62 per cent drowned. 28 ‘critically endangered’ white sharks were killed.

Although ‘target’ species are white, tiger and bull sharks (three of the four shark species regarded as most dangerous to humans), of which 51 were caught, yet 325 of the marine creatures ensnared in nets were non-target species.

The latter included: 14 grey nurse sharks (‘critically endangered’, five of which died); 19 green turtles (‘vulnerable’, 14 of which died); 16 leatherback and 4 loggerhead turtles (both of which are ‘endangered’, five of the former, two of the latter died); 2 great hammerhead sharks (‘critically endangered’, both of which died); one humpback whale and one common dolphin – both of which drowned.

Green Sea Turtle, a species common in Australian waters and seen swimming at Manly Beach. Photo: Wexo Tmg/Wikimedia

Opposition and alternatives

On 29 January 2022, the shark nets across Manly Beach made national media after a Manly solicitor, Brendan Maher, rescued a turtle enmeshed in the nylon during an ocean swim. Maher observed the large turtle struggling to escape the orange twine in deep water about 300 metres due east of North Steyne Surf Club.

He swam ashore, jogged along the seafront until he found a café, borrowed a knife, then swam back to release the turtle after 30 minutes of sawing, during which he cut his hand (which risked attracting sharks).

Afterwards, Northern Beaches Deputy Mayor Candy Bingham told Manly Observer, “In October 2015, the NSW Govt committed $16 million over five years to do research into the best way for shark mitigation.

“And now here we are in 2022 with exactly what we had before, 51 shark nets. It’s extremely disappointing and inappropriate.

“Frankly, the nets are totally ineffective. I don’t think people realise how small they are. It’s like having a handkerchief hanging out in the middle of the ocean! So often we’re having reports of sharks being caught in the nets coming back from the beach.. We’re losing precious marine life and catching very few sharks.

“There’s overwhelming support on the Northern Beaches to have the nets removed, as long as there are other shark mitigation programs in place..”

Crowded Manly Beach. Surf Life Savers monitor shark activity with drones. Photo: Alec Smart

In a study by University of Wollongong researcher Leah Gibbs, and published December 2019 in People & Nature, the nets were criticised for killing marine wildlife, including endangered species.

They were also described as wrongly attributed for the reduction in shark attacks, when other factors were involved.

Dr Leah Gibbs from the Department of Geography and Sustainable Communities who has been working on research into Threatened and Threatening: Governing Sharks for Conservation and Human Safety project.

“Beach patrol plays a central function in emergency response to any beach hazard, including shark bite. In addition, generic improvements in medicine post-WWII, and specific knowledge of response to shark bite, have grown substantially…

“Effective emergency response and medical treatment, combined with beach patrol, are clear contributors to the low proportion of fatalities following shark bite in recent decades..”

“The SMP [Shark Meshing Program] is frequently presented as the key or sole factor responsible for reducing shark bite incidence in NSW. However, the evidence does not support this claim…”

Unfortunate timing

On the morning prior to the Manly Beach protest, a teenage surfer was bitten by a suspected great white just north of the beaches at Avoca on the central coast. Shark nets were not yet in place. The surfer received stitches to a hand wound.

Department Primary Industries 2021-22 report on shark nets


How shark baiting works


Great white shark with satellite tag attached to base of dorsal fin. Photo: Phillip Colla/Wikimedia


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Manly Observer is an experiment in providing non-sensationalist hyperlocal news on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. We cover the big news across the LGA, but with a hyper focus on the Manly electorate encompassing Balgowlah, Seaforth, Freshwater, Brookvale and Curl Curl up to Dee Why. It is run by those living in the community for the benefit of an informed community. We care about an informed and connected community. That’s it. Simple. Thank you for your support in keeping quality local news alive!

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