Sharks are an extremely important part of keeping our oceans healthy and thriving, but still, all around Australia, sharks are being caught and killed in significant numbers. A major area of concern is the Shark Control Program in both New South Wales and Queensland. These programs involve the implementation of shark mesh nets, as well as the addition of baited drumlines in Queensland. The government claim the reasons for these processes are to protect people from sharks, when in fact it just creates a false sense of security for swimmers and harms our beautiful marine life in the process.
Hammerhead shark caught in the shark net (Image: Andre Borell)
Shark nets were implemented in New South Wales in 1937 and introduced to Queensland in 1962 (Chapman 2019). The nets are 6 metres deep, are 150 metres long in New South Wales and 186 metres long in Queensland, and both sit in around 12 metres of water. These nets never actually touch the surface or the bottom, and do not span the whole length of the beach, giving sharks ample opportunity to swim around these nets (Envoy: Shark Cull 2021). The target species of these nets are Tiger sharks, Bull sharks and Great White sharks. The sharks that are caught in the nets are actually found on the beach side of the net after already visiting the beach and are headed back to the ocean (Sunshine Coast Environment Council n.d.). The government are able to convince the public that these nets are a physical barrier between them and sharks, but in truth, they are only designed to cull.
The removal of apex predators like sharks can have detrimental impacts on our marine systems. In areas like the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, nets are no longer permitted to operate, but are still present in beaches that surround the park, such as in Cairns and Townsville (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 2019). By removing sharks in areas around the reef, it can cause herbivorous middle level fish numbers to boom, as they are no longer being predated upon. This can cause overgrazing on coral by these herbivores, destroying coral abundance and resulting in a no longer productive system. Sharks are important for keeping systems under control and balanced, and these shark nets are consistently removing these predators, in a time that the reef needs them the most.
Its not only sharks that are being caught in the nets. Majority of animals caught in the nets are by-catch which include rays, turtles, sea birds, dolphins and whales, which are all animals that play vital roles in the ecosystem (Chapman, 2019). In 2014, it was recorded that 84,800 marine animals were killed in the Queensland Shark Control Program (Sunshine Coast Environment Council, n.d.). It is also believed that other animals caught in these nets can attract sharks to the area. To make matters worse, the New South Wales and Queensland government decided to make it illegal to enter exclusion zones around the nets, and if anybody tries to rescue animals that are caught, they will face a $22,000 fine in New South Wales and a $66,725 fine in Queensland (Envoy: Shark Cull 2021).
It is almost impossible to believe that New South Wales and Queensland are still using equipment that was implemented before World War II, even though technology has improved dramatically since then. There is now technology that allows for non-lethal alternatives, such as using drones to spot sharks from above, which is currently being trialled in Queensland, whilst still keeping their nets in place (Sunshine Coast Environment Council, n.d.). There is also technology being trialled in South Africa that mimics the effects of large kelps forests called the Sharksafe Barrier. It has been found that Great White sharks will naturally avoid kelp forests, so these structures that replicate kelp act as a barrier, without the risk of marine life being caught
Sharksafe barrier that replicates kelp forests (Image: Dr. Sara Andreotti)
The detrimental effects these nets and drumlines have on our ecosystem, as well as the lack of security they actually provide, highlight how important it is that the New South Wales and Queensland government remove these archaic systems immediately. It is clear that there are many other alternatives that can be implemented that do not involve killing our precious marine life. For the love of our oceans, it’s time we respect the locals.
For ways you can make a difference:
-Watch the documentary at https://www.envoyfilm.com.au/ to learn more about the full extent of the ‘Shark Control Program.’
Article written by Tamika Heath
Chapman, B 2019, ‘Shark nets: Protecting us or just harming sharks?’, blog post, Australian Geographic, 26 June, viewed 8 October 2021, https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/blogs/shark-blog/2019/06/shark-nets-protecting-us-or-just-harming-sharks/.
Envoy: Shark Cull 2021, documentary, The Hype Project, Australia. Directed by Andre Borell.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 2019, Statement: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park – Queensland Shark Control Program, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, viewed 8 October 2021, https://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/news-room/latest-news/latest-news/corporate/2019/statement-great-barrier-reef-marine-park-queensland-shark-control-program.
O’Connell, C & Andreotti, S 2014, ‘Effects of the Sharksafe barrier on white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) behavior and its implications for future conservation technologies’, Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, vol. 460, pp. 37-46.
Sunshine Coast Environment Council n.d., Take action on lethal shark control, Sunshine Coast Environment Council, viewed 8 October 2021, https://www.scec.org.au/shark_nets.