SMART drumlins have been deemed one of the success stories of the state government’s $16m shark management strategy.
SMART drumlins have been deemed one of the success stories of the state government’s $16m shark management strategy.

SHARK PLAN: Best and worst of 'world first' $16m program

After five years, $16m and some failures, the state government's shark management strategy has come to an end.

The program tested and trialled a range of shark mitigation measures, including drones, helicopters, listening stations, SMART drumlines and barriers.

>>> Shark data reveals secrets of ocean's apex predators

The NSW Department of Primary Industries has released the full results from the program on the SharkSmart website.

According to the snapshot of the results, the strategy was a "world first" program that looked into different technologies and helped to increase knowledge about the movement and ecology of white, tiger and bull sharks.

So what worked and what didn't?

There were three standout successes from strategy drones, SMART drumlines and the VR4G listening stations.

Drones have been used for shark surveillance flights at many beaches on the North Coast in partnership with Surf Life Saving NSW.

They can sound sirens to warn swimmers and surfers if a shark is in the area, and also help lifesavers to identify swimmers in distress.

The DPI said drones were now a "critical tool" in keeping beaches safe.

They are versatile, non-invasive and good value for money.

 

Shark drone takes off to follow a shark at Lighthouse Beach in Ballina.
Shark drone takes off to follow a shark at Lighthouse Beach in Ballina.

Meanwhile, SMART drumlines have a dual purpose for shark mitigation and research.

They remove the immediate risk by taking dangerous sharks offshore, and allow for DPI staff to conduct one of the largest shark tagging programs in the world, helping to build better knowledge about the movements and ecology of target sharks.

"Community surveys show many people think SMART drumlines are better than traditional shark nets because they catch more target sharks, release and relocate sharks and have less bycatch," the DPI report states.

"There are some concerns that SMART drum line baits attract sharks and should not be located near swimmers, and around the welfare of sharks during the catch, tag and release process."

 

A great white shark caught on a SMART drum line off the beach.
A great white shark caught on a SMART drum line off the beach.

The final winner in the shark management strategy was the VR4G listening stations, which provide real-time alerts of tagged sharks via the SharkSmart app and Twitter feed.

It gives swimmers and surfers knowledge on the location of sharks.

One criticism has been around the overall effectiveness, because only tagged sharks are pinged, and they are only pinged at beaches with listening stations installed.

A shark listening station installed off the Lennox headland.
A shark listening station installed off the Lennox headland.

Aside from the three successful measures trialled during the shark management strategy there was one "epic" failure.

That was the shark barriers.

In 2016, for the first time on Australia's east coast, the DPI aimed to trial two shark barriers to provide an enclosed, shark-free area for beachgoers.

But the project was doomed from the very start.

There was plenty of opposition to the barriers, which were to be installed on Lighthouse Beach at Ballina and Seven Mile Beach at Lennox Head.

In August 2016, during the first attempt to install the barriers, the projects were put on hold due to large swells and bad weather.

After a third attempt at Lighthouse Beach, the project was scrapped.

 

The failed Lennox Head shark barrier.
The failed Lennox Head shark barrier.

The Lennox Head trial was also abandoned less than a month later, after the barrier broke up during installation.

Bits of rope, concrete and steel from the old eco barriers continued to wash up on the beaches for months afterwards.

Shark net trials were held at Lennox Head, Sharpes, Shelly, Lighthouse, Evans Head beaches from December 2016 to May 2017 and November 2017 to May 2018.

However they caught a large amount of non-target species and were widely unpopular.

Have your say

The DPI is now calling for local residents to have their say.

What kind of shark mitigation measures would you like to see continued on the North Coast?

A survey is being conducted by the University of Wollongong and Charles Sturt University on behalf of NSW DPI.

The survey closes on March 28. To find out more, or to have your say, visit the website.


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