UPDATE: The NSW DPI Answers Coastalwatch's Questions On The Failed Shark Barriers
COASTALWATCH | ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS
“They’re using this whole area as an experiment.”
For weeks, bits and pieces of yellow and blue plastic had been washing up on the beaches north of Lennox Head. If any surfers or beachcombers were in doubt about the source of the debris, they’d have rapidly had their doubts resolved last week.
That’s when the Department of Primary Industries announced that a shark “eco-barrier” trial at Lennox main beach had been abandoned after the barrier had torn itself apart against a concrete anchor.
It was the second such trial to be abandoned in as many months. In August a trial at Ballina’s North Wall was cancelled following constant disruption by sand movement and water flow.
Local surfers and fishermen had been strongly critical of the trials’ locations from the outset. “It was doomed from the start,” says Le-Ba Boardriders president, Don Munro. “The most important people to ask about this stuff are the people in the water. It was a dumb approach.”
The barriers were part of a $16 million, five-year shark management strategy announced by the NSW Department of Primary Industry in October 2015, following an unprecedented number of shark attacks and sightings along the NSW north coast.
$7.7 million of that money was earmarked for helicopter surveillance, shark tracking and detection devices, drones, and the ill-fated eco barriers.
So what is an “eco-barrier”? These weren’t the almost invisible offshore nets that operate off Sydney beaches, quietly disrupting shark territories. They were full enclosures, designed to surround a surf zone and block anything above a certain size from swimming through.
The trials at Ballina and Lennox were run by two separate companies, Eco Barrier Pty Ltd and Global Marine Enclosures. Both companies are based in Perth. Both have barriers in place off WA beaches, Eco Barrier’s off Coogee near Fremantle and GME’s off Middleton Beach in Albany — way calmer waters than those off North Wall and Lennox main beach.
Munro says the North Wall net was a navigation hazard in the making. “It was right in the surf zone. You know North Wall, it’s a volatile area. There’s so much sand movement. (The contractor) kept saying, ‘The conditions aren’t right, we’re running behind because of the conditions.’ We said, ‘What conditions? If you can’t put it in now, you’ll never put it in.’
“The feeling from the boys (now the trial has been called off) is, ‘Unreal, because we want protection, but not at the cost of good surf spots.’ It would have really wrecked North Wall.”
Munro has been attending monthly stakeholder meetings held by the DPI, designed to keep locals informed about the Department’s progress. He’s been told the helicopter and drone surveillance and alert buoy testing will continue, but says right now it’s “just spinning rubber… They’re using this whole area as an experiment. That’s exactly how it feels.”
Perhaps the biggest result of the 2015 attack surge has been in its effect on human, rather than shark behaviour. “Surfers are a resilient lot,” says Munro. “But there’s definitely still tension.” He tells a story of one surfer recently who stayed out despite a shark sighting — afterward, his mates got up him about it, something they’d have laughed off two years ago.
“I never go into the water without thinking about sharks.”
And the cost of the failed eco-barriers? We can barely wait to find out. Coastalwatch’s calls to the DPI, and to the contractors involved in the testing, have so far gone unreturned.
We asked the DPI for comment on a range of questions, including cost; here’s what their spokesperson had to say:
CW: How were the companies who conducted these barrier trials selected for the purpose?
NSW DEPARTMENT OF PRIMARY INDUSTRIES: Eco Shark Barrier and Global Marine Enclosures were each invited to submit a tender to manufacture and install the shark barriers. These companies are the only ones in Australia who make such structures.
How were the trial locations selected?
Lighthouse Beach is the location of three shark attacks, including one fatal attack. Lennox Head was also selected by the Ballina Shire Shark Mitigation Advisory Group as an additional location to trial the barrier.
What was considered to be the purpose of the barriers? (i.e. the netting off beaches in Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong is designed to prevent sharks from establishing territories — was this the idea behind these barriers or were they designed for more direct prevention?)
The Shark Meshing Program (SMP) is designed to reduce the chances of dangerous sharks aggregating near meshed beaches, thereby reducing the chances of a shark interaction.
A shark barrier is a physical barrier which either wholly, or in part, separates sharks from water users. They do not aim to entangle sharks or other marine life.
The $16m Shark Management Strategy is trialling new and emerging shark deterrent technologies.
The original roll-out specified six separate trials. Now the first two have failed, will the other four trials go ahead, and if so, where and when will they be conducted?
Six barriers were initially budgeted for the trials based on preliminary discussions about costs and barrier sizes. Following more detailed discussions, proposal development, and community consultation, DPI sought and tendered for two barriers based on the available budget and timeframes and consultation.
Both trials have been discontinued, No further barrier trials are planned.
How much did the two trials cost the DPI? (Just in direct costs, ie to the companies involved)
The costs of the barriers is included in the $16 million Shark Management Strategy.
The amount paid will reflect those components of the contract that were delivered and this is still being assessed.
Will the result of these trials affect any other part of the shark management program — ie the drones, the shark alert buoys, the sonar buoys, etc?
NSW DPI will continue to work closely with the local community to explore complementary shark mitigation technologies included in the strategy and suited to local conditions.
The strategy includes aerial surveillance, a shark tagging program and related VR4G listening stations, and trials of smart drumlines, sonar ‘Clever Buoys’ and drone surveillance. All of these technologies are progressing well.
We encourage people to download the SharkSmart app for shark warnings and alerts and follow us on Twitter @NSWSharkSmart
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