Every year across New South Wales hundreds of marine animals including dolphins, turtles, sharks and rays are dying in shark nets. Submerged around beaches from Newcastle to Wollongong, these killer nets are providing a false sense of security. In reality, research shows that nets are ineffective at protecting beachgoers whilst indiscriminately killing countless marine animals. With renewed calls for an end to the use of these killer nets, it is time the New South Wales Government listened to our communities and to science, and banned shark nets in New South Wales. Put simply, it is impossible for lethal shark control measures like shark nets to guarantee public safety.
Floating four or more metres below the surface, these nets do not connect with the shoreline. This allows for sharks and other animals to swim over, under and around the nets, something we know they often do. There is also no statistical evidence proving shark nets prevent shark bites, with recent research from both Deakin and Wollongong universities confirming just how ineffective these nets really are. In fact, CSIRO shark expert Barry Bruce has stated they should not be classed as a barrier but as a fishing device. In 2017 a Federal Senate committee recommended that shark nets be removed from all New South Wales beaches. The damage these lethal nets are doing to marine animals is clear. Shark nets are not species specific. Their holes are not big enough to let through sea turtles, nor are they visible enough to deter dolphins and whales. Because of this, in New South Wales alone shark nets have killed thousands of animals over the past nine years, including 503 hammerhead sharks, 293 rays, 72 turtles and 49 dolphins and whales. Many of these animals would have suffered for hours and slowly drowned. Over 19,000 animals are known to have met this brutal death in New South Wales shark nets. Even animals released alive are not guaranteed survival; the stress and injury of entanglement can cause death soon after.
From climate change to pollution and fishing, marine animals are facing threats from all sides and sharks are at serious risk. In fact, it is estimated that over the past 50 years, shark populations have dropped by 71 per cent, devastating marine ecosystems where they play a critical role as apex predators. We cannot continue adding to shark carnage with these cruel nets. And we do not need to because where shark nets are failing, other new technologies are succeeding. Drone and helicopter surveillance, shark listening stations, eco shark barriers and even personal shark deterrents are all methods that keep swimmers safe without the heavy toll on marine animals.
What is almost always overlooked is the most important shark mitigation strategy of all: beach patrols. Investing in lifeguard patrols and emergency responses have been highlighted by researchers as the most impactful way to keep people safe in the water. All but one of New South Wales' netted beaches are patrolled already, and it would be easy to invest the money and resources being used in shark netting programs in supporting our beach communities to expand the critical surf lifesaving programs already in place. The research makes it clear: Shark nets are not protecting us but they are indiscriminately killing tens of thousands of animals. With community support for shark net removal and so many effective and humane options to protect swimmers, there is no reason to keep netting our beaches. I urge councils across New South Wales and the New South Wales Government to listen to science and our communities. It is time to protect animals and remove these deadly nets from our waters.