Story featured on coastalatch.com.au.

On Tuesday 29, September an international conglomerate of shark experts met at Taronga Zoo in Sydney. It was the first of it’s kind summit headed by the New South Wales Government and aimed to discuss active shark attack mitigation strategy.

The state government, a panel of highly qualified experts and regional bodies including Surfing NSW and Surf Life Saving NSW filled the room as strategic research and management options were discussed and highlighted in hope of coming up with some kind of environmentally friendly way of protecting swimmers and surfers as we head into the summer months.

In 2015 the Northern NSW coastline has had an increased number of shark attacks and sightings and the fear has taken over coastal towns where once, popular surf breaks have been deserted and peak summer tourism is looking grim. The increase in attacks and sightings has stirred debate amongst many of these communities and the wider public, about methods to reduce the incidences including, the controversial shark culling method.

In NSW between Newcastle and the Illawarra, shark nets are currently the only system in place. The controversial nets are placed at beaches and held between September and April each year and can be washed ashore in big seas as well as entangling non-threatening marine life.

What went down at the Summit and what is being looked at? Basically the NSW Government is shortlisting a number of strategies that have so far been successful in other shark-heavy areas of the world. They are hoping to do this in a way that will decrease attacks without harming sharks and causing the least impact on the natural environment.
The large-scale barrier methods discussed included;

  • Temporary Nets
  • Eco Shark Barriers
  • Bionic Barriers
  • Aquarius Barriers
  • Bubble Curtains – visual deterrent
  • Sharksafe Barrier – magnetic barrier
  • Shark Repellent Cable
  • Shark Repelling System
  • Underwater Rubberized Electric Fence

Personal Deterrents were also discussed and would be more applicable to surfers who use more isolated locations, they included;

  • Repel Sharks – uses a natural chemical found in putrefied shark tissue that affects the smell and taste senses of a wide variety of sharks. Comes in a spray form.
  • SAMS – Camouflage wetsuits and surfboards that interfere with the sharks visual perception. if you want to set a new fashion trend. (see below image)
  • Shark Shield – a mount that consists of two electrodes which when both are submerged emit a three dimensional electronic field that surrounds the user. When a shark comes to within a few meters of the Shark Shield, the strong electronic pulses emitted by the device cause the shark to experience muscle spasms. Does not harm the shark! A bit bulky like a camera mount on your board.
  • Surf Safe – A shark deterrent device that can be easily fitted to a surfboard and activated once the 2 electrodes come in contact with the sea water. Looks slick and made by surfers
  • Sharkbanz (electropositive metals) – magnetic shark deterrent bands for surfers, divers, swimmers, and beach-goers. Looks just like a Fit-bit

The Summit also addressed emerging technologies including

  • Sonar – Using the Cleverbuoy system (see video below). It is a research and development program using sonar technology to detect shark-sized objects in coastal areas, in a non-invasive way. When a detection is made, the buoy will relay a signal via the Optus Network, to lifeguards on the beach.
  • Dedicated Land-based Observation – Used effectively in South Africa with people standing on high-points spotting sharks.
  • Acoustic Tagging and Tracking – the preferred method as used in WA and currently underway in NSW

Australian Lifeguard Service Manager Brent Manieri attended the summit and said “We live on a very dynamic coastline and not one shark mitigation strategy is going to work from the Queensland to Victorian boarders. Western Australia has had a number of strategies that have so far been successful by they will not work for us because our currents are so strong and the cycle of sand moving is more rapid.”

Surf Life Saving NSW and the Australian Lifeguard Service is working closely with the Department of Primary Industries to roll out information to the beach-going public this summer. Manieri says “It’s not just about putting things into the water to deter sharks, but also about education. We will step up our jet-ski and off-shore water patrol operations as the weather warms up but as always the best way to stay safe as a swimmer is to swim at a patrolled beach.”

Just one example of rolling out education comes from a state that has endured it’s fair share of shark attacks and fatalities. The Western Australian Government website Shark Smart is a great initiative and resource that combines all appropriate services to provide a high level of education and information to the West Australian people. The website’s key message is “Keep enjoying the beach” and says it aims to provide “Some confidence to enjoy (our) remarkable coastline but they will also deepen our understanding of shark behavior.”

The scientists and experts involved in the summit will finalise their recommendations to the Government this week as days grow longer, water gets warmer and people head to the beach in mass to enjoy our lush beaches.

The SAMS shark deterrent wetsuit and surfboard

The SAMS shark deterrent wetsuit and surfboard

The Aquarius Shark Barrier System

The Aquarius Shark Barrier System