• Envoy Film

The shark nets don't discriminate

If you’ve ever visited the New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland (QLD) coasts you would have walked on incredible beaches, swam in the crystal clear waters and experienced the laid back lifestyle that is the eastern Australian seaboard.

And if you have spent enough time there, especially underwater, you would have witnessed the extraordinary diversity of marine wildlife; turtles, fish, dolphins, rays, whales and even sharks all in their natural habitat.

Spotted Eagle Ray - Threatened Species. Image Josh Blank Photography
Spotted Eagle Rays assessed 'vulnerable to extinction' by IUCN Red List. Image: Josh Blank Photography

If you think back to the first time you saw one of these magnificent creatures you will remember that there is something truly magical about these wild animals up close. You hope that future generations will be able to experience the same. Although these animals possess such incredible beauty and play a significant role in the function of our marine ecosystems, there is one animal that gets an unnecessary bad wrap.

You guessed it, the shark. These beautiful and majestic creatures have been greatly misunderstood and have been wrongfully portrayed as vicious and deadly predators.

In reality, sharks are an extremely diverse family with the majority of shark species posing no definite threat to humans. Sharks do not hunt humans. Shark bites are almost always a case of mistaken identity. The chances of being bitten by a shark are so extremely low. You would be 30 times more likely to be struck by lightning. More likely to die from taking a selfie than fatally bitten by a shark.

Many individuals are trying to better understand shark behaviour and trying to educate the public on their importance to our ecosystem.

There is still this underlying, hyped up, media-fuelled fear whenever there is the rare occurrence of a shark bite. The unrealistic fear was the catalyst for the NSW and QLD governments’ shark culling programs.

The NSW bather protection program was introduced in 1937. The QLD shark control program in 1962. Both programs include the use of shark nets and drum lines. In NSW, 51 beaches are netted between Newcastle and Wollongong. In QLD, 87 beaches are netted from the Gold Coast to Cairns.

This may be considered reasonable if the nets actually kept us safe. New research has shown shark nets are not an effective method for keeping beachgoers safe. The extremely unlikely chance of being bitten by a shark has nothing to do with the use of extensive nets. These useless nets are giving beachgoers a false sense of security.

The real kicker to shark nets is in the bycatch. Hundreds of animals get stuck and are killed in shark nets every year.

Images: QLD Shark Control Program Images 2019, obtained under Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld) Ref: 19-347

These nets are slaughtering dolphins, whales, turtles, rays, fish and harmless species of sharks.

The nets don’t discriminate.

The nets don’t care what labels the government uses for target species.

The nets don’t care if it’s an endangered loggerhead turtle.

Bycatch data is available for everyone to get. It is horrifying

In the NSW and QLD data you will see what has fallen victim to these nets; loggerhead turtles, dugongs, grey nurse sharks, whales, hawksbill turtles, white sharks, cow nose rays, spotted eagle rays and other threatened and protected species.

In NSW alone 375 animals were entangled by nets from September 2020 to April 2021. Of these, 89% (334 animals) were non-target animals (NSW Department of Primary Industries). Devastating.

Out of the ones that did not survive, there were six dolphins and twelve turtles (leatherback and olive Ridley turtles).

In QLD nets, two bottlenose dolphins and two loggerhead turtles were killed. All of these are Federally protected species.

Leatherback, loggerhead and olive ridley turtles are endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). This means that these species may become extinct if the threats to their survival continue.

At the world-famous Bondi Beach, a shark net recently resulted in the death of an Australian fur seal. Further north at Alexandra Headlands on the Sunshine Coast, a net took the life of a dugong. Both of these surf beaches are known for their scenic beauty and thanks to shark nets are now known for killing protected species.

Hundreds of animals are dying in these nets every year. The programs have been in place for more than 60 years and have resulted in the slaughter of thousands of animals.

Harmless shark species get tangled and die. Image obtained 2019 under NSW Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 - Ref: GIPA 20-1157

The sad fact is these nets and drumlines are up and down a huge percentage of our coastline. Drumlines are even found throughout our Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It is mind blowing that these archaic and outdated practices are still running. They are endorsed by our governments. Practices that are proven to be ineffective and kill thousands of marine animals.

Other states and territories refuse to use shark nets and drum lines. Shark nets are destroying marine wildlife and vulnerable species for no reason.

This needs to end. Act now to stop the NSW and QLD shark control programs.

References and further information:

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