We offered free shark bite trauma kits to coastal Councils in NSW and QLD...not one accepted
The risk of being bitten or dying from an unprovoked shark bite in Australia is extremely low. According to studies by the Australian Shark Incident Database there are on average 1.1 fatalities per year from shark bites across New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland (QLD). Compare that with the 87 people who on average drown at Australian beaches each year (Surf Life Saving Australia 2010).
Despite being incredibly rare, shark bites do happen, and often have serious consequences for those involved. Following a severe shark bite, victims typically suffer a massive loss of blood, and if not intervened, this often leads to fatality. If the victim has access to swift medical attention and medical supplies their chances of survival are much greater.
A number of years ago, Trauma Kits were designed by Sea Shepherd in conjunction with trauma experts, and endorsed by shark bite survivor and former Australian Navy diver Paul de Gelder.
These Trauma Kits are designed to help stop bleeding in the case of a rare shark bite so that the victims have a better chance of survival and include medical shears to cut through neoprene if necessary, trauma bandages, emergency blankets to keep a patient warm, tourniquets to stop the flow of blood loss, and a pictorial instructional sheet.
Shortly after Envoy finished documenting the current Shark Control and Bather Protection programs, and reviewing modern shark mitigation measures, we decided to try and help.
The team at Envoy reached out to every coastal council in NSW and QLD and offered to pay for the supply of Trauma Kits and weatherproof containers for their beaches. We offered these on the proviso that councils would mount them on signposts at every popular beach, unpatrolled surf break and swimming spot. We hoped that we could help provide the difference in saving someone’s life.
This offer of supplying free Trauma Kits to every council was made in May 2020. Not one council accepted the offer. Since that date, there have been 6 fatalities in NSW and QLD at Salt Beach, near Kingscliff NSW, Wooli Beach NSW, Fraser Island QLD, Gold Coast QLD, Emerald Beach north of Coffs Harbour, and at Tuncurry Beach.
Would these Trauma Kits have helped prevent these 6 fatalities? Could they have helped provide quicker access to medical supplies to stop the victims’ excessive bleeding? Why didn’t the councils accept our offer? One argument the councils offered when refusing these kits was that we should leave medical supplies in the hands of trained lifesavers. The Envoy team responded to note that this is only a good measure if lifesavers are present at every beach, every surf break, every swimming spot 24hrs a day, 365 days a year. But we all know that this is not the case. This offer was specifically to address unpatrolled, or outside of patrol hours shark incidents.
As we continue to enter the ocean professionally or for recreational pursuit, we need to accept that sharks present a risk - a very low risk, but still a real risk.
Rather than ignoring this risk, we are seeing a shift in the approach from the NSW government with the announcement on 15 November 2021, that custom shark trauma kits will be part of their 2021-2022 shark management program. The details of this are so far unclear, but the Envoy team encourages our councils across all states of Australia to install Trauma Kits at beaches as an extra measure that can help prevent fatalities caused by the rare event of a shark bite.
Yes, it will mean walking onto a beach and seeing a shark trauma kit and being reminded that sharks are in the ocean. But is it really that different than the jellyfish signs and post-sting medicine available in QLD reminding people that jellyfish are in the ocean?
Better signage and access to trauma response solutions at unpatrolled beaches and during unpatrolled hours can minimise fatalities in the rare case of a shark incident and we think, should be adopted across all of Australia. So why isn’t it being adopted, even when it comes at zero cost due to a donation offer from independent filmmakers? We will leave that one for you to decide...
Changing Patterns of Shark Bites in Australian Waters (CSIRO) by John G. West Australian Shark Incident Database, Taronga Conservation Society Australia
Surf Live Saving Australia 2010