A safe and shark-free swimming environment without unnecessary harm to marine life.
A safe and shark-free swimming environment without unnecessary harm to marine life. Contributed

Shark barrier divers put at risk in suspended project

UPDATE 1.30PM: THE MAN directing the construction of the shark barrier at Ballina's Lighthouse Beach has revealed how unsafe conditions for divers forced the temporary abandonment of the project this week.

Craig Moss, managing director of Perth-based company Eco Shark Barrier, said divers had attempted for "five days straight" to lay the first seafloor line of the barrier but shallow water and swells had put their safety at risk.

At one stage, Mr Moss said divers were being thrown upside down by the waves with another concern their umbilical cord air supplies connected to the dive boat could have been damaged.

The cause of the problem was a huge build-up of sand extending out beyond North Wall, making it about three to four metres shallower than when the area was initially surveyed last year, when it was an estimated seven metres deep and well beyond the surf zone.

The project has been put on hold indefinitely until conditions improve, with three container loads of materials removed from Lighthouse Beach and put into storage this morning.

Mr Moss admitted he was "shattered" that the team couldn't get to work on the project sooner.

 "Obviously there's been months of months of planning and thinking… (but) I'm not a diver, I'm not a boat operator, and at the end of the day it was their lives that were at risk and they couldn't do it," Mr Moss said.

"I don't want to take a life trying to put it in."

"No one really likes the idea of walking away when it's supposed to go in, but everyone knows this is the best thing to do.

"The DPI have been awesome, they've agreed it's a difficult situation."

Mr Moss said once the barrier was installed, a sand build-up along the barrier line wouldn't pose a problem.

 "It's okay if it happens once it's in, because the sand would just cover the barrier and actually help to hold it down," he said.

But surfers are not impressed by that idea, because when sand banks run further out waves will break past or right on the barrier, creating a potential hazard. 

Local surfer Mark Herning said it was a "good move" that the barrier was put a hold "before some was injured or killed".

"You may as well get it right the first time," he said.

He argued it would be far better to put the barrier in deeper water where it would be easier to install and also satisfy surfers.

But Mr Moss said putting the barrier in deeper water would increase the pressure on the design "tenfold" and make it far more costly.

"Even if it's only a little bit deeper, everything changes dramatically," he said.

"It would be certainly nice to take it out further, but at the end of the day it's not my call."

"The whole idea is to get it all the way across from the North Wall so it does get surfers into the safe zone, and I think it will do it that most of time.

"There's going to be… occasions when it won't work for the surfers, but I'm assuming at least 50% of the time if not 80% of the time… the surf will be good on the inside of the barrier."

 

THURSDAY 9.30AM: CONSTRUCTION of the controversial shark barrier at Lighthouse Beach will be put on hold - but not because surfers have complaints about its location.

The project has been delayed by adverse conditions, making it impossible for divers to begin work on trial project, Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair has said in a statement.

However Mr Blair also said the delay would give the Department of Primary Industries more time to properly consult with local surfers and other stakeholders about their safety concerns in relation to the barrier.

"Over the last few days divers from the Eco Shark Barrier team have made attempts to begin installation of the state's first shark barrier at Lighthouse Beach, Ballina," Mr Blair said.

"Recent storms and large waves have deposited huge amounts of sand in the wavezone at Lighthouse Beach, making it too dangerous for the divers to safely install the barrier."

Now that the Ballina shark barrier has been shelved should we:

This poll ended on 07 April 2016.

Current Results

Give away all shark protection measures and leave it to nature

28%

Demand the state government install eco-sensitive shark protection measure as promised

17%

Get real and install traditional nets and drum lines

40%

Undertake a shark cull if another unusual cluster of attack occurs

13%

This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

"As a result, there has been a delay in the installation of the Eco Shark Barrier at Lighthouse Beach.

"The team from Eco Shark Barrier will continue to monitor water depths and will begin installation of the barrier at the earliest and safest opportunity."

"Until it is safe to begin installation, I have directed the Department of Primary Industries to continue aerial surveillance in the region and prioritise further trials of the SMART Buoys.

"I have also asked the Department of Primary Industries to further consult with local surfers and other stakeholders to ensure their safety concerns around the location of the barrier are considered."

"This is the first of the trials of Eco barriers in NSW and when dealing with Mother Nature it can be a real challenge - but we are determined to see these technologies in the water as soon as possible."



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