ON THE MOVE: Experts call for the removal of shark nets at Ballina as the East Coast whale migration season starts. Seen here is a humpback whale breaching off the Sunshine Coast.
ON THE MOVE: Experts call for the removal of shark nets at Ballina as the East Coast whale migration season starts. Seen here is a humpback whale breaching off the Sunshine Coast.

Migrating whales under threat from Ballina shark nets

THE prospect of migrating whales and their calves getting entangled and killed in nets as they approach Cape Byron has prompted calls for the immediate removal of the shark nets deployed around Ballina.

Dr Daniel Bucher, Associate Professor in Marine Biology and Fisheries Science at Southern Cross University in Lismore has supported calls by local environmental groups to remove the Ballina shark nets ahead of the winter whale migration season.

"Starting now, as the whales begin migrating north, they come closer to shore here than anywhere else on the coast and along with them come grey nurse sharks, a protected species, that aggregate around Julian Rocks,” Dr Bucher said.

"The prospect of seeing these animals draws many visitors to our region and it would be a great tragedy to see any of these creatures becoming entangled.”

Marine ecologist and university lecturer, Dr Daniel Bucher.
Marine ecologist and university lecturer, Dr Daniel Bucher. Contributed

The calls to roll up the nets around Ballina, deployed as part of a 12 month trial sanctioned by the federal government, came after a senate shark mitigation hearing held in Byron Bay this week.

Dr Bucher said under the original twelve month trial agreement nets could only be deployed for six months and the Commonwealth government would need to grant any extension.

"Under the The Environmental Protection and BioDiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) the commonwealth government is obliged to protect all species listed under the act including turtles, dolphins and some protected species of sharks already killed in these nets.

He said in the light of the EPBC Act the net trial had been a failure with, "approximately five times more large iconic species killed by the nets than sharks caught in the nets, so it would be difficult to justify an extension of the trial.”

Dr Bucher said a far more effective way to reduce the risk of shark encounters was the use of smart drum lines- baited hooks that broadcast an electronic signal onshore if a shark is caught so it can be freed, tagged and released, increased vigilance by using drones and shark spotters and the use of personal shark repellent technologies such as Shark Shield, especially on remote beaches.

Left to right: Dean Jefferys, Migaloo 2 Foundation; Kathrina Southwell, Australian Seabird Rescue; and Ian Cohen, Ex Greens NSW MP at the Byron Bay Senate shark mitigation hearing.
Left to right: Dean Jefferys, Migaloo 2 Foundation; Kathrina Southwell, Australian Seabird Rescue; and Ian Cohen, Ex Greens NSW MP at the Byron Bay Senate shark mitigation hearing.

Following this weeks Senate meeting marine conservation groups including Australian Seabird Rescue, Sunshine Coast Environmental Council, Migaloo 2 Foundation along with ex-Greens NSW MP, Ian Cohen, agreed to write to the Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg, the Chair of the Senate inquiry into shark mitigation and the Ballina Mayor David Wright, insisting that an independent thorough and public review be conducted at the end of the trial.

"In the letter we will ask that shark nets be removed as soon as possible in line with other NSW regions so as not to endanger the lives of the migrating humpback whales,” Founder and captain of the marine conservation yacht Migaloo 2, Dean Jefferys said.

"The death of over 172 non targeted species during the trail so far, including dolphins, endangered rays, turtles and sharks could not be called a success by any means.

"To label the nine of the sharks killed as 'potentially dangerous' even though those varieties have never hurt a human shows the bias of the reporting.”

Opinion over the nets remains sharply divided with Ballina Mayor David Wright, Ballina Chamber of Commerce and Industry spokesman Ray Karam and Le-Ba Boardriders president Don Munro all insisting that human life should be protected over any marine life.

"Between February 2015 and July 2016 we had nine per cent of the world's shark interaction, with and attacks in Ballina and this includes Evan's Head, sometimes three times a day,” Cr Wright said.

"The nets effect on tourism, on people coming to Ballina and people going into the water means they have had an incredibly positive effect.”

In respect of Byron Bay Mayor Simon Richardson told the enquiry it would be "un-Byron to put up nets” and that, "the Byron community has moved on” and the money could be better spent elsewhere.

Byron Shire also won praise from Australian Seabird Rescue's Rochelle Ferris this week for its no nets stance.

The group chose to release two endangered sea turtles at The Pass in Byron as a way to acknowledge Byron Shire Council's refusal to deploy shark netting.

"We wanted to release the turtles in Byron to thank the Byron Shire Council for refusing shark meshing in their shire,” she said.

"We are here to raise the issues and remind people that we having critically endangered species in our backyard that we need to protect.”


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