The below is an open letter to Mike Baird, Premier of New South Wales, sent on Wednesday 12th Oct, 2016, following the announcement of the introduction of shark nets in Northern NSW.
Dear Mr Baird,
This comes during a week that has seen two unfortunate decision for animal welfare. While I'm not educated enough to make an objective judgement on greyhound racing, I feel that I can weigh in on the discussion of introducing shark nets on the NSW coastline.
Shark nets themselves are an outdated and proven ineffective notion, first widely introduced in the 1950's as a prevention method attempting to protect swimmers from sharks. The nets act as underwater tennis nets, and don't offer complete protection from sharks. Sharks can still swim over and below these nets, and most dead or caught sharks found in these nets were on the beach side of the nets. They serve as a false sense of security for swimmers and do nothing to prevent attacks.
The main issue with these nets are the 53,098* other marine animals that are killed in nets and drumlines each year (2013's statistic, the last time this practice was "trialled"). These animals include turtles, dugongs, whales, dolphins, rays and other harmless species of sharks. It was the NSW Government themselves that acknowledged this threat, recognising shark netting as a "key threatening process" under their environment law in 2003.
During my time working for Surf Lifesaving Australia, my role was to investigate and compile the association's Coastal Drownings Report. This involved sifting through coroners reports relating to every death on the Australian coastline. Over 300 of these deaths were drownings in one single summer period. Zero were from shark attacks. That same summer, there were 15 reported deaths cause by bee stings. This was below average yes, but during an average year there is one single fatal unprovoked shark attack each year in Australia (and normally 60 deaths from bee stings).
Mr Baird, your statement about preventing loss of human life as a priority is indeed important, relevant and valid, but given the knowledge of sharks at our finger tips, and the statistics surrounding drownings, surely education holds more validity and longevity as a solution. We know so much more about sharks and their behaviours than we did in the 1950's. We know their feeding patterns, we know where they breed, and we know when they are active. There is currently $16million dollars in your Government's Shark Mitigation Strategy, going towards aerial surveillance, drum lines and patrols. How much of this is going into education and research?
Over the course of your discussion on the issue of shark nets, I have heard mention of the effects on tourism for the towns experiencing these attacks, with the point being that holiday makers will avoid areas of high shark sightings and activity. As I see it, the problem doesn't lie with the sharks, but sensationalism in the media. It seems to be over enthusiastic journalism that report on every shark sighting as an attack on our basic freedoms, that is scaring the tourists away. If we had fairness and accuracy in our media, the public wouldn't have an unnecessary fear of such a beautiful animal. In many areas of the world, sharks are a main attraction, encouraging dives, boat sightings and eco-tourism. Perhaps the solution here would be to enforce fairer reporting and labelling to help the public decipher the difference between journalism, and opinion piece.
It's true, I don't know anyone who has been attacked by a shark, nor have I been attacked myself. However I do know people who have been mauled by dogs. I don't hate dogs as a result. I don't want nets to keep dogs away, I don't want dogs to suffer. I know people who have been hurt by other humans. But I don't want nets to keep humans away from me, in the fear that one might harm me.
As a surfer, swimmer, and every day beach goer, I'd rather be educated on how to avoid shark attacks, rather than be aware that a fruitless effort is being made only to result in the death of animals I love and need to maintain balance in the ocean. I'm aware of the risk posed by entering the water every day, the same way I'm aware of the risk of being on the road. But there is risk in living, and we shouldn't destroy everything that poses risk, especially when in this case, ocean life holds so much value.
I'm urging you to reconsider this outdated approach to preventing shark attacks, as it's effectiveness is unproven, yet the environmental impact is. It would be a catastrophe not only to shark mortality, but other ocean life as well, many of which provide a huge boom to the State's tourism. I know this decision appeases the sensationalist media culture as a knee jerk reaction to their reporting, but it's not in the best interest of people, the environment, or the State.
*Humane Society International 2013