‘Drum lines aren’t the answer, education is’
ON MONDAY, 5 November a man was fatally bitten by a shark in Cid Harbour at Whitsunday Island off the coast of central Queensland. It was the third negative shark encounter in less than two months, but the first to result in death.
“I was really shocked by the news,” said shark expert Blake Chapman, author of Shark Attacks. “This is an extremely tragic and sad event in a line of unfortunate and unusual incidents.”
Following the last two shark bites, it was decided drum lines would be deployed around the harbour, which resulted in six tiger sharks being trapped and shot.
The drum lines were met with community outcry. One local woman, Kellie Leonard, wrote an open letter to the Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk saying, “It would be a lot easier to advise tourists not to swim in the areas with mud bottoms, rather than scaring people by seeing sharks getting caught on drum lines, in what will always be a sharky area.”
After this most recent incident, Whitsunday MP Jason Costigan is again arguing that drum lines be used, this time permanently. Queensland Police and State Government MPs, however, are advising people not to swim in Cid Harbour, drum lines or no drum lines.
Warning signs will be installed and water police are currently stationed in Cid Harbour, warning people about swimming in the area.
“This latest incident has shown us that the use of drum lines, or any sort of temporary population management approach, is not an effective strategy,” Blake said. “I am similarly not convinced that the deployment of permanent drum lines in Cid Harbour would be any more effective. We really need to be putting our efforts into research and education.”
In the aftermath of the last two bites, three shark experts agreed that education tools such as pamphlets, signs, apps and other warning materials about the dangers of sharks would be more beneficial.
“If we can communicate better about areas and conditions that are safer to swim versus those where it is not, then that would be an advantage. This could be through better communication, regional signage or information booklets available in hired vessels or through tourism operators,” Blake said.
Fellow shark expert Barbara Wueringer has a similar perspective. “I think the Queensland Government is doing the right thing by not installing more drum lines but instead closing these waters to swimming and getting the information out there that people should avoid certain areas at certain times of the day,” she said.
Charter Yachts Australia, which operated the vessel the first two victims were travelling on, still lists Cid Harbour as a top destination for paddleboarding, and the Government’s Superyacht Guide to the Whitsundays contains no warnings about sharks.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Parks Zoning Map of the Whitsundays also doesn’t include warnings about sharks and the Queensland Government’s shark control program does not include Cid Harbour.
Local diving instructor Tony Fontes, who’s lived in the area for 40 years, said that while tourism operators and the government were divided, locals were resolute in their stance against drum lines. “The community at large is very much against the drum lines, this was clear following the back-to-back bites in September,” Tony said, stressing that the community won’t accept drum lines as the answer.
“Drum lines aren’t the answer, education is. The local politicians are calling for permanent drum lines and honestly, we’re just trying to ignore them. We’ve moved beyond that, because we tried it and it didn’t work. This is also because people know sharks are important and that we are able to keep swimmers safe without killing them.”
Tony and a number of other locals attempted to devise a management plan based on education after the previous two bites, but weren’t able to get anywhere. “I worked with a local marine advisory board that advises the marine park on local issues and we were desperate for a meeting with tourism, management agencies, scientists, politicians and fisheries,” he said. “No one was interested. We were snubbed.”
This time around, Tony said, the mentality is different: “We’re having a meeting with all those people, except fisheries, on the 13th of this month. Better late than never.”