A coalition of environment groups joined forces at Manly to call for a ban on shark nets.

The debate over shark nets has been ongoing, with Northern Beaches Council voting in April 2021 to remove shark nets from the Northern Beaches in favour of newer technology such as UAVs (drones) and smart drumlines.

As increasing amounts of sea life has returned to the Northern Beaches in recent years, including seals, dolphins, turtles and whales, the risk of catching non-target species in the nets has been highlighted by the entrapment of a juvenile humpback whale that was caught in a shark net at Whale Beach last October.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) ignored the decision of Northern Beaches Council to remove the nets and last September continued to deploy the nets for the summer season. The nets will again be deployed from today (Thursday, 01 September) for this summer.

A coalition of environment groups, including The Greens, Animal Justice Party, Surfrider Foundation Australia, Humane Society International, Sea Shepherd and the Australian Marine Conservation Society, held a protest at Manly this morning (Thursday, 01 September) demanding the nets be removed in favour of new and more effective technology.

Animal Justice Party Northern Beaches Leader Susan Sorensen (main image, centre) said the deployment of shark nets would be a ‘tragic’ day for marine life.

“This Thursday is a tragic day for the Northern Beaches community because despite our pleas, shark nets are being forced on us again by the NSW Government.

“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.

“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,” lamented Ms Sorensen.

Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann

NSW Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann (image above) said that today signalled not just the start of spring, but also the start of an ‘indiscriminate’ killing season.

“Last year’s Shark Meshing Program is an appalling indictment on the overall program. It caught more threatened species than the targeted sharks. They’re killing indiscriminately.

“We’ve had loggerhead turtles, green turtles, critically endangered grey nurse sharks caught in those shark nets last year and killed. It’s completely outrageous. I don’t think it has any social licence to continue operating.

“They [shark nets] are in for eight months, it’s absolutely outrageous. Every season, they seem to be killing more and more threatened animals. That’s what happened last year.

“People came from all parts of Sydney today to protest about these shark nets going in. Today’s the first day of the campaign to get them out of the water,” said a resolute Ms Faehrmann.

Ms Faehrmann said the DPI and NSW Government were reacting to media reports of shark attacks and not to commonsense and evidence.

“DPI are listening to a certain few voices on 2GB and in The Daily Telegraph, as opposed to local councils. Local councils are listening to the local community, who don’t want shark nets. Unfortunately, the government is listening to the right wing media, who overreact whenever there is a shark bite in NSW waters.

“I think the vast majority of people in NSW understand that when they get in the water, they get in with a heap of different animals. That’s part of what it is to be in Australia, swimming in the ocean.

“But our government continues to put in place these death traps, which don’t actually protect people. Research has shown that almost half of the animals caught in those nets are caught on the beach side of the net. They offer a false sense of security.

“The government has a duty to protect threatened species, including in our oceans, and today they’re putting in death traps for eight months. It’s absolutely disgraceful,” expressed Ms Faehrmann.

Surfrider Foundation Australia Northern Beaches President Brendan Donohoe

Following a 14-year-old boy being bitten by a shark on the Central Coast yesterday (Wednesday, 31 August) Surfrider Foundation Australia Northern Beaches President Brendan Donohoe (image above) said surfers recognised the risk of being in the water with sharks, but nets were not the answer.

“My sympathies to the family and the 14-year-old bitten up at North Avoca yesterday. These things are inevitable and they will happen, I’m wishing him a swift recovery but these nets do nothing to defend against that.

“Nets cause a good deal of bycatch. For any surfer, there’s absolute joy when you see a turtle head pop out near you, and to know that one of them is being killed every 10-12 days by nets is not acceptable.

“There’s much better ways to protect against what these things say they do. There’s more effective ways these days with drones, smart buoys, there’s all sorts of other means,” said Mr Donohoe.

The claim by advocates for the lack of effectiveness of nets seems to be supported by some evidence. Last season, each weekend there was typically at least one shark sighting per week across the Northern Beaches, and often there were multiple sightings each week.

The Northern Beaches Advocate is aware of only one shark instance at Mona Vale Beach in which a 3m pregnant bronze whaler shark was entangled in a shark net last season (Saturday, 16 October). The remainder of the sightings (over 90 percent) were spotted either by a UAV (drone) operator (video below) or lifeguards performing observation duties, or seen by surfers in the water who reported it when they came to shore.

In the case of a shark sighting, the shark alarm is sounded and the beach is closed. A jet-ski is then launched to ‘chase’ the shark away from shore, which is usually effective. The beach will then remain closed for at least 30-60 minutes from the time of last sighting.

The introduction of Surf Life Saving UAV (drone) patrols on the Northern Beaches appears to have increased safety from shark attack with more effective detection and warning now available as a result of the regular drone patrols, which are also more effective at spotting swimmers in distress.

Images and video: Northern Beaches Advocate

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