2 May 2024

Humane Society calls for end to shark nets on Illawarra beaches

| Zoe Cartwright
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Are shark nets outdated technology, or essential for beach safety?

Are shark nets outdated technology, or essential for beach safety? Photo: Humane Society International Australia.

More than two dozen non-target animals were killed by shark nets across Illawarra and Royal National Park beaches this season, Humane Society International Australia says.

The organisation has released new data from the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) that shows nets caught 38 animals, and killed 26 of those.

Marine biologist Lawrence Chlebeck is a campaigner at Humane Society International (HSI) Australia, and says the number is unacceptable.

“Non-target animals killed by the shark nets included a dolphin, two green turtles and a leatherback turtle,” he said.

“The nets also managed to entangle a grey nurse shark – a critically endangered species.

“The fact that access to Garie Beach is closed, yet nets still exist off its waters, makes this wildlife cost even more unacceptable and undefendable.”

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The DPI says the safety of beachgoers is their number one priority, however, and shark nets will not be phased out until new technologies are proven to improve safety outcomes for swimmers.

“Since the introduction of the Shark Meshing Program in 1937, there has only been one fatality at meshed beaches,” a DPI spokesperson said.

“Over the same period there have been 17 fatalities at unnetted beaches.

“The NSW Government will continue to consult coastal councils and their communities to ensure that local preferences are balanced against effective, evidence-based shark mitigation for beachgoers.

“Any future changes to shark net regulation in NSW will need to be evidence-based and ensure that residents and visitors can continue to enjoy our beautiful beaches across NSW.”

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HSI Australia was able to obtain the ‘catch’ data for NSW’s Shark Meshing Program from 1 September 2023 until 11 April 2024 under a freedom of information process.

DPI would not confirm the numbers and said they would release data publicly in the coming months.

As the nets are rolled up for the end of the season, HSI Australia and the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) are urging the NSW Government to ensure this is the last time NSW beaches deploy the devices.

Dr Leonardo Guida, shark scientist at AMCS said netted beaches were already using alternative technologies to manage water safety.

“There are SMART drumlines and drones in use at every beach where there is a net,” he said.

“Public sentiment and the science are in alignment – let’s keep the nets out and the drones up.”

NSW’s Shark Meshing Program sees nets installed on beaches from Newcastle to Wollongong, every September through April.

The NSW Shark Management Program is the largest program of its kind in the world, which includes nets at 51 beaches across eight local government areas (LGAs) between Newcastle and Wollongong from 1 September to 30 April each year, 305 SMART drumlines across 19 LGAs, 37 tagged shark listening stations, with at least one in every LGA, and surveillance drone patrols at 50 beaches, with at least one in every LGA.

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