Data released this week by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (‘DPI’) shows that 21 threatened marine turtles were killed in the last shark net season—a rate of one turtle every 12 days. Additionally, 14 Critically Endangered grey nurse sharks were caught, with five found dead and nine released, though there is no guarantee of survival for this fragile species. The death of just one grey nurse is a serious blow to the population.
A staggering 86% of marine animals caught in NSW shark nets during the 2021-2022 season were non-target species such as turtles, rays and smaller sharks. Though shocking, these figures tell the same tragic story every year when the Shark Meshing Programs catch data is revealed, and its why coastal councils and residents want them gone.
NSW’s Shark Meshing Program, currently consisting of 51 shark nets spanning from Newcastle to Wollongong deployed between 1 September and 30 April each year, has hardly been updated during its operation despite significant technological and scientific advancements. Conservation groups, Humane Society International Australia (‘HSI’) and the Australian Marine Conservation Society (‘AMCS’), say it is high time the shark meshing program in NSW was ended to make way for newer technologies that both improve swimmer safety and significantly reduce environmental impacts.
The Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program 2021/22 Annual Performance Report, released yesterday by NSW DPI, shows that of 376 animals caught, only 13.5% (51) were actually target species. Of the 376 animals caught in the nets, 62% (234) were killed. Shockingly, 203 (54%) of the animals caught during 2021-2022 were threatened or protected species, and 77% (156) of these animals were killed.
All eight NSW local councils with shark nets on their ocean beaches have officially revoked support for the devices in order to make way for a modernised approach that will improve swimmer safety and significantly reduce environmental impacts.
Non-lethal solutions including drone surveillance, personal shark deterrents, and accessible education programs, are not only more technologically advanced but are also designed with nearly a century of advancements in understanding shark behaviour in mind. HSI and AMCS are hoping the NSW DPI will design a modern bather protection program relying on these more effective and sophisticated technologies and consign the nets to history.
Lawrence Chlebeck, marine biologist for Humane Society International Australia, said, “Each year, we are heartbroken to see so many more marine animals lose their lives, all for the false sense of security provided by shark nets. This season saw the loss of 21 more turtles, the highest amount in any season since catch data has been released and taking the total in that time to over 100. The indiscriminate deaths that occur as a result of the outdated Shark Meshing Program in NSW must end.
The technology is nearly 100 years old, we would never accept safety technology that old in any other facet of our lives, why should ocean safety be any different? It is in everyone’s best interest that the nets are done away with.”
Dr Leonardo Guida, shark scientist with AMCS, said, “The local communities want their beach safety standards modernised and the terrible cost to wildlife significantly reduced, if not eliminated altogether. Public sentiment and the science are in alignment—come September the NSW Government should keep the nets out and the drones up.”