The first day of spring. Birds are tweeting, blossoms are blooming and it’s getting easier and easier to jump out of your cosy bed when your alarm rudely interrupts your dreams. But for marine life, there is a dark side to this season. In Australia, the first day of Spring marks the day that shark nets are placed back in coastal waters. Spring is the season normally associated with new life. For sharks, turtles, whales, sea lions and the myriad of creatures that are regularly entangled in these nets it can mean the exact opposite.

‘Shark nets’ are part of the Shark Meshing Program, an initiative first implemented in the early 1930s to make Australian oceans safer for beach-goers, but these nets are an ineffective and outdated method of protecting surfers and swimmers from possible shark attacks. We’ve listed the top reasons why below.

A hammerhead shark entangled in a shark net
A hammerhead shark entangled in a shark net

Nets don’t form a barrier from one end of a beach to the other.

How do you think shark nets work? In a recent survey done by the SEA LIFE Trust, the majority of respondents thought that a shark net formed a complete barrier from headland to headland. This is definitely not the case! Shark nets are only 150 metres long and are similar to the nets you’d find on a tennis court.  Iconic Bondi beach in Sydney is 1000 metres long– its shark net therefore covers a tiny 11% of its width.

Shark can swim above, over and around the nets

Shark nets are placed in water that is between ten and twelve metres deep. The shark net itself is only six metres high, allowing sharks and other marine animals to swim both over and underneath. In fact, most sharks and other marine animals are caught in nets when they are headed back OUT towards the open ocean!

We need sharks in our oceans

If you’re a diver, chances are you might already have a soft spot for sharks and know how important they are. Sharks are an apex predator, and removing such an important element of the food chain would be irretrievably detrimental to the oceanic ecosystem, with the potential to result in its total collapse. Humans are responsible for the death of one hundred million sharks globally every year. Sharks are responsible for five deaths annually – worldwide. Ninety percent of shark populations around the globe have been completely killed off. For a healthy ocean, an ocean rich in biodiversity, sharks are essential.

There is no conclusive evidence that proves shark nets actually work

People are afraid of the unknown, and the ocean and everything that calls it home continues to be a big unknown. More is known about space than the deepest depths of the ocean. What we do know however is that there is absolutely zero conclusive evidence that proves the shark nets are beneficial to swimmers. Sixty eight percent of shark attacks since 1930 have occurred on beaches with shark nets in place. In 2009, the Australian Department of Primary Industries stated that “the rate of shark attack has remained the same both before and after meshing commenced”. So, why do we keep doing it?

There is no way to ensure nets are only catching sharks.

For every one potentially dangerous species of shark caught in the nets, the number of non-target species such as sea turtles, dolphins, seals and rays is approximately twenty! Humpback whales migrate in Australian waters from September to November, and come close to shore to rest and protect their calves. The shark nets are in place during this time, and whales often become entangled in them.

There are other methods of protecting beaches, that don’t harm marine life

As technology advances, so too does the way we can protect people from potential shark attacks. Initiatives such as helicopter patrols, tagging and tracking sharks, and even shark-deterring wetsuits are being trialled to replace shark nets.The eco shark barrier is a solid barrier that marine life can’t get entangled in. Shark Spotters keep a watchful eye over surfers and swimmers, using flags and alarms to alert people of sharks in the area. At the end of the day, sharks call the ocean home and every time we enter the water we accept the risk that goes along with it.

For most people the word ‘shark’ instantly sends a shiver down their spine, and conjures up images of  bus-sized monstrous creatures with mouths full of razor sharp teeth, just waiting to gobble up an innocent beach goer. The role media has played in demonising one of the oceans most important animals has been pivotal to how people perceive sharks.

Until I started working as a scuba dive instructor a few years ago, I too shared this view on sharks. Now I virtually spend more time under the water than above it, and I know first hand that sharks are most definitely not the mindless killing machines that most people believe them to be. Sharks do not attack for the fun of it, and you are much more likely to be injured by a coconut or drink vending machine, even using a toaster is statistically more dangerous.

Diving with sharks is an incredible experience, and they are not an animal to be feared, but to be respected and protected. There are some amazing places to jump in the water with sharks.  Some of the best places to dive with these animals include Fiji or the Bahamas, where you can spot whale sharks, tiger sharks and reef sharks. The waters surrounding Costa Rica are renowned for seeing schools of hammerheads.

What do you think of shark culling and shark nets? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.

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