NSW Government Shark Management Strategy

It’s a life or death question, with shark
attacks seemingly on the rise. How do we keep swimmers and surfers safe?
Many of the world’s leading experts are in Sydney for a special summit to come up with
an answer. We could describe the strategy simply in three
major components, the first component would be surveillance, deterrence and detection,
the second is the science research – how do we understand more about sharks, and the third
thing is education and community awareness. It’s really interesting how much fear we have
for sharks and yet it’s the shark that should be fearful of us if you consider very few
people get bitten by a shark every year and yet hundreds of thousands of sharks get killed
by humans every year so we are having a massive impact on the world’s shark populations and
as a result on the fragility of the marine ecosystem. The aim of the tagging research program is
to learn more about the movements and behaviour of potentially dangerous sharks in NSW waters.
The catch and release process and the tagging most importantly is really quick, it’s around
15 minutes in total and that’s where we insert the internal tag in the abdominal cavity of
the shark as well as put the external fin-mount tag on the dorsal fin of the shark as well,
this process takes a maximum of fifteen minutes. They’ve travelled vast distances in such short
periods of time, one animal a 2.9 metre female travelled all the way from Ballina nearly
to New Zealand in weeks, months, this animal is travelling vast distances. The listening stations are designed to track
our tagged sharks, when a sharks comes within 500 metres of these buoys it’s detected on
our hydrophone which instantaneously sends a message to a satellite. That satellite message
then comes through to DPI Fisheries and we retweet or send a message via our Sharksmart
app to the public. It’s instantaneous through our Sharksmart
app and tweets, so the public can follow up along the NSW coastline to see where they
are moving. SMART drum lines differ from traditional drum
lines in that they have satellite technology which tells us when a shark’s been caught,
a message is sent immediately to researchers back on shore who can get to the shark as
quickly as we can, tag the animal and then release it. The opportunities that you get from a helicopter
are quite unique, firstly you get really good vision, because the doors are off, you can
get photographs of the animals that you’re encountering, you can access the people in
the water easily, all our helicopters have got a siren and a PA system so if there is
a potentially dangerous situation, those will be activated. When the helicopter sights a potentially dangerous
shark close to people the most important thing people would know is that a siren will go
off and they will be warned through the PA system on the helicopter to please exit the
water. As part of our drone trials we’re looking
at three things, the capacity of drones to fly under any conditions, if the drone can
see what a traditional helicopter and an observer on board can see, and the capacity of drones
to be flown at individual beaches along the NSW coastline. So far the drones are really promising and
there’s no reason why these can’t be used for individual beach safety or our surf beaches
along the NSW coastline. The great things about these exclusion devices
is that they are a non-entanglement device so they are not like a normal fishing type
net, they’re large pieces of plastic with a small aperture window that prevents large
animals from moving in and out but allows small fish and other animals to move through. Personal deterrents are going to be the most
effective way because people usually surf out on headlands so it’s not possible to use
area-based technology for example putting in a barrier or something like that so personal
deterrents are going to be the most effective way to go as well as combined with things
like aerial surveillance and drone technology. I think it’s really important for people to
understand for us in the research team this work is actually really close to our hearts,
out of the seven of us, six of us are active surfers so we are actually stakeholders in
this entire game. DPI Helicopter Region 1 Ballina 12. So obviously one of the other key components
of the strategy is enhancing our existing partnerships with life-saving authorities
so Australian Professional Ocean Lifeguards Association, Surf Life Saving NSW and Australian
Life Saving Services and NSW police marine area command ofcourse as well and with local
councils the aim being is to get a collective message about the best way to keep safe at
beaches. The importance of working together through
a complex issue like shark management is very, very important Surf Life Saving’s role is
we’re on the beach from September to April all over summer, we’re a brand which is recognized,
people think we have some sort of authority on the beach which we do, we’re an organization
that’s well respected so they come to us for advice even though we’re not experts in shark
management it’s why we need that close relationship.

Maurice Vega

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