Shark nets could be the key to improving tourism
SHARK nets and hot weather could be the secret combination to increasing tourist numbers on the Far North Coast.
Boxing Day saw at least 150 people in the water at any one time at Lighthouse Beach, Ballina.
It was a welcome change after the 2015 parliamentary inquiry, which found a third of North Coast tourism businesses reported a direct loss from increased shark sightings.
Ballina mayor David Wright said he had been monitoring the coastline since the Christmas break.
"This is the best Christmas we've had for a long time," he said.
When asked why that might be, Cr Wright said the hot weather certainly brought tourists and locals out to the beach.
But another factor could be the introduction of shark nets.
"People know they are there; we're getting a lot of people from other locations coming because of the nets," Cr Wright said.
Troy Lister from Beef and Beach at the Lennox Hotel said business over December and January was the best it had been in five years.
"There's probably been an increase of over 10-15% in visitors," he said.
"In September almost every tourist who came in led with shark comments ... there's a calmness now, it's not top of mind."
Surf Live Saving Far North Coast director CJ Samuels said hot weather was the biggest factor of this season's success.
"Last holiday period there was a lot of rain and unsettled weather. This time a big heatwave came through," he said.
Lennox Head Alstonville Surf Life Saving Club president Geoff Harris said there was an increase in beach visitors across his patch, most likely due to shark mitigation strategies and good weather.
At Evans Head, Camp Koinonia coordinator Marie Dale said people responded well to the shark nets.
"I promote it to them and say you can swim safely ... they seem to be happy about that fact," she said.
Cr Wright and Mr Samuels reminded swimmers and divers there was an exclusion zone around the nets.
"We'd encourage people to stay clear of them ... if we have to go and assist them it does take a few extra sets of eyes off the beach," Mr Samuels said.
Cr Wright said apart from one shark getting caught off the drumline at the end of a net, no marine life had been caught in nets since they were installed in December.