Our 'shame': shark nets bring turtles to the brink
WHEN rescue turtle 'Jamie' is released back into the ocean next week it won't be anywhere near Ballina.
It's feared the endangered loggerhead turtle, revived after being found malnourished at Richmond River, Wardell, will be snared in one of the region's five shark nets.
Four months into the NSW Government's Shark Net Mesh Trial, eight loggerhead turtles have been caught in the nets, installed in response to a deadly Great White attack on a surfer in 2015.
Animal activists claim even more loggerheads have been killed than the two recorded in the recently released biocatch report, dated from 8 December 2016 to April 7, 2017.
Seabird Rescue said a female turtle washed up at Lennox Head on March 29 bearing visible net marks on its front and back flippers had bleeding in its mouth caused by "biting into a net" while trapped.
"There were clearly rectangular marks all over the body of the turtle," Seabird Rescue volunteer and Ballina Shire councillor Keith Williams said.
"We contacted Department of Primary Industries, and they said they had released one turtle alive a couple of days previously.
"It may have been pulled out alive but already had some major lung damage."
The biocatch report showed six sharks, including Great White, Tiger and Bull Sharks, were killed or caught, 28 non-target sharks were killed or caught, including 18 endangered hammerhead.
52 non-target marine animals were killed including three dolphins.
Questioning the legality of installing the nets without an the environmental impact study subject to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act Mr Williams said the dead dolphins represented a 5% hit to Richmond's pod of 60 dolphins.
"Before the nets went in there was years of work rescuing dolphins and turtles, and we can now just see all that work wiped out.
"Nets are killing the animals faster than we can save them."
In addition to nets, shark mitigation options in the trial also includes helicopter surveys and drone surveillance, which recently captured teeming marine life on the North Coast with a popular You Tube.
Seabird Rescue's Kathrina Southwell, also a bird-watching tour operator, labelled the recent turtle death a "shame" and the You Tube a misleading portrayal.
"If people could only see - go out the Lighthouse lookout with some binoculars - it's not a good look for Northern River tourism at all.
"It's very depressing. My whole job as general manager of a tourism company has changed and I have had to become an environmental activist whether I like it or not.
"It's really hard to promote this region for its natural assets when you know the government is killing innocent wildlife."
Sea Shepherd have increased their advocacy in the region, filming local sub-contractors pull the nets out of the water at Ballina's Lighthouse Beach, also the site of a shark attack on a teenager last year.
"It is important that members of the public understand the environmental cost of the false sense of safety provided by these nets," said Sea Shepherd's skipper Jonathan Clark.
"With the low numbers of (loggerhead turtles) critically endangered animals in the area, every single death is a serious step towards local extinction.
"Sea Shepherd would not support this method of shark mitigation even if the numbers showed large numbers of target sharks caught and low numbers of by-catch.
"Shark nets provide only a false sense of safety which in itself can lead to poor decision making by water users."
It's believed there are 15 breeding-age females which nest in the sand dunes around the NSW North Coast.