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Shark solution takes time, local advisory group chair says

UPDATE 12.33pm: THE Richmond Local Area Commance senior police officer who attended Tuesday's shark summit in Sydney says no solution is a "silver bullet" and refused to be drawn on which technology might be best suited for a trial on the North Coast

Detective Inspector Cameron Lindsay was the only representative from the North Coast at yesterday's summit.

The event featured 70 Australian and international marine experts and was put on to canvass a list of shark deterrent technologies for a planned trial across NSW beaches.

These included arrays of sonar buoys to detect sharks at particular beaches, various forms of electronic barriers including so-called bubble curtains, "smart drumlines" which catch sharks but allow them to be released, and personal electrical field deterrents for surfers and divers.

Det Insp Lindsay, who attended in his role as chair of the Ballina shark advisory group, said there were "pluses and minuses" to each technology.

"I don't think there's one solution which would be perfect for the situation," he said.

"There's a lot of different options and it's really important that we get it right.

"You don't want to just jump in and… just trial something straight off the bat without really considering is it going to work, what's the long-term viability of that particular system.

"You've really got to think about the area you're going to trial the technology, you've got to take advice from the experts, and also the producers of whatever device or deterrent are going to use.

"It's not an easy decision."

Pressed on whether people would be disappointed with the outcome of the summit thus far given it's apparent inconclusiveness, Det Insp Lindsay said it was more important to find the right technology.

"Unfortunately these things take time, you've got to make sure you get the right decision, the right system in place.

"Obviously the government will make the choices in that regard."

Until then, Det Insp Lindsay said he had faith in the current local protocols around shark sightings to avert any attacks, which require people who see sharks to dial triple-0 and daily aerial patrols during school holidays and on weekends.

The Ballina shark advisory group will meet on Monday, October 14 to review the recommendations from the summit with a view to lobbying the NSW Government to become a trial site.

There is an additional public forum on October 17.

INITIAL REPORT: AN AEROSOL can which sprays the smell of a rotting shark carcass to repel hungry sharks - who hate the smell of their dead - was one of several fascinating technologies reviewed at the long-awaited shark summit held at Sydney's Taronga Zoo.

The US-made invention wouldn't be suitable for swimmers and surfers, however - it was designed with divers in mind.

The summit heard from 70 local and international marine experts who reviewed a range of technologies and the current scientific knowledge about shark behaviour.

Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair said the government hoped to conduct trials by summer - including on the North Coast - using different technologies in an "integrated approach".

But shark deterrent technology would not be used just to "placate people's fears", DPI shark expert Vic Peddemors said.

Dr Peddemors, who participated in the joint DPI-CSIRO shark tagging operation off Ballina last month, acknowledged the human impact of attacks which, while rare, were "traumatic in nature and have a large impact on the victim, family and witnesses".

However, he said "we will only put devices in the water when we are convinced that they work and that they can actually detect and or deter sharks from potential harm to people".

The South African born expert noted that one of the most effective shark deterrents - shark nets - had been the "backbone" of NSW's program to protect people against shark attacks since the 1930s.

However, Dr Peddemors said earlier that the North Coast's "pristine marine environment" made shark nets less than ideal here, due to the deadly impact on other species such as sea turtles.

Bond University Associate Professor Daryl McPhee said there was no "silver bullet" for detecting sharks and stopping attacks.

"There's a number of technologies that are just nearly there, there's a lot of impressive YouTube videos that shows various devices being able to deter a shark but as a scientist that's not a scientifically definitive approach," he told Guardian Australia.

"No matter what's used, it will not be 100% effective, a shark spotter's program or new technology will not be able to detect 100% of sharks."

Minister Blair acknowledged that shark attacks were a "very emotive" issue, but "we want to make sure that anything we do in this space is based on science".

"We're not going to leave any stone unturned to make sure we have the best minds on this," he said.

Experts from the summit are expected to deliver their trial recommendations to the government within the next two days.

Earlier, Ballina mayor David Wright, who was not invited to the conference, said he hoped "something good" came out of it for the North Coast, including a suitable deterrent and clearer answers about why so many sharks appeared to be congregating here.

A second summit is planned for October 14 in Ballina.

Some of the technologies discussed include:

  • Shark repellents: A chemical deterrent in an aerosol can that contains the scent of decomposing shark tissue.
  • Electronic fencing: Provides protection for a whole beach with electronic barrier.
  • Shark shields: A personal deterrent that creates an electrical field in the water around a person that sharks can detect. Surfboard or ankle attachable.
  • Smart buoys: An array of buoys are deployed to detect sharks using multi-beam sonar to identify underwater objects.
  • Smart drumlines: A drumline attached to an electronic GPS buoy, which detects when a shark has been captured on the drumline.

Topics:  shark attacks, sharks




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