Tweed leaders rally for funding to prevent another tragedy
JUST seven days after a shark mitigation trial ended on the Tweed Coast, Tugun man Rob Pedretti was killed by a great white shark while out surfing at Kingscliff on Sunday.
While no one can answer the question for certain if drone patrols would have saved him, the weekend's devastating attack had prompted responses from Tweed's State Member and a councillor to lobby the State Government for more funding for shark mitigation measures.
MP Geoff Provest said he had already been in talks with the NSW minister for agriculture Adam Marshall who is also in charge of fisheries.
He said going forward there were talks of increasing the amount of drones in the local area and expanding the program as well as looking at smart drumlines.
Drones currently operate during the busy summer season.
"Would a shark drone have saved his life? You can look at it and argue many ways, with the drop offs and deep water the clarity isn't 100 per cent effective, also the unlucky placement of the injury... it's a question I don't know the answer to," Mr Provest said.
"I take my hats off to the two surfers who put their life on the line to get Mr Pedretti out of the water... they are true heroes.
"My deepest sympathy goes to (Rob Pedretti) and his family and friends and our first responders - the ambos, police and surf life savers - who had to deal with a pretty horrific incident."
Mr Provest said he was a personal advocate of adding another shark monitoring bouy further south than the existing one at Kingscliff.
"As the population grows I believe there is a necessity for it," he said.
Mr Provest reiterated nobody was even considering installing shark nets in the region.
"We have seen the negative effect on the marine environment that the nets causes - it is not even on the agenda," he said.
Mr Provest said it was about education while sharing the water with marine creatures.
"I encourage everyone to get the fisheries shark app to get up to date info on tagged sharks," he said.
"Everyone needs to be careful this time of year because there is sea mullet, taylor, whales in migration and it does attract predators particularly the large sharks.
"Don't swim if you see bait fish around - easily identified by diving birds - or in the early morning, late evening or in murky water.
"People have to take their safety seriously and be aware, the ocean is a wild place.
"In terms of water safety, when we lost three of five people at Fingal and Dreamtime beach we put in the angle rings and emergency response beacon and that has saved some peoples lives. We are very responsive.
"The way to go is smart drumlines, more drones and shark location boy somewhere near the surf break and Salt."
The difference between a drumline and a smart drumline is the smart drumline alerts officers when an animal takes a bite of the baited hook, while a drumline is checked periodically. This increases the hooked animals chance of survival.
Mr Provest explained when a shark is released further out to sea, a satellite beacon is attached to the shark and statistics show normally the shark doesn't return to the area for months.
Jimmy Keough, head of NSW Surf Life Saving for the region of the far northern coast, said the NSW government-funded two-year trial provided surveillance of shark movements from Evans Head to the Tweed.
Mr Keough said drones, helicopters and shark listening stations were used to track sharks along the coast, as well as SMART drumlines and tagging in Ballina and Evans Head.
"Ballina and Richmond shires also had tagging of sharks with SMART drumlines," Mr Keough said.
"They release the sharks that are tagged for smart buoys, which activate and disseminate information about the sharks, and let people know they were in the area."
He said NSW Surf Life Saving would be happy to continue working with the Department of Primary Industries with future shark mitigation projects.
"We can also implement those elements in general life saving activities, not only shark mitigation, but response to people in distress and other hazards like large rips.
"There's a bit of stigma that we're (NSW SLS) is not being proactive enough, but the main role of surf life saving is to ensure public safety in the environment.
"And also to work with stakeholders and embrace any development and technology in that field, to further the enhancement of life saving as well.
"We don't want to see it evolve into a situation where people don't come and visit and enjoy our beautiful beaches."
A spokesman for the Department of Primary Industries said the State Government had invested "significantly" in trialling technologies to increase protection for beachgoers from sharks.
"These trials have included a range of different shark mitigation measures such as drones, helicopters, SMART drumlines, tagging and shark listening stations," the spokesman said.
"With the close of the swimming season on the NSW Coast at the end of the Easter School Holidays, helicopter and drone trials for shark surveillance concluded as planned.
"Other trials, including the use of SMART drumlines off Evans Head and Ballina-Lennox Head and 21 VR4G listening stations, are ongoing."
He said the NSW Government would be looking at the findings of the trials closely and assess the best steps going forward.
Tweed shire councillor James Owen also wrote to the Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall using his experience as a patrolling member of Salt Surf Life Saving Club to rally for ongoing funding and expansion of the shark drone program and the deployment of additional SMART drumlines along the Tweed Coast. He also asked for increased funding and expansion of the DPI Shark Spotting Helicopter patrols and funding for more Rescue Water Craft or Jet Ski's for surf life saving clubs in Tweed.
"In the days following the attack the community is still in shock and there is a real sense of fear and uncertainty - our honeymoon period with the ocean is over and, now we need to do whatever we can to give the community the confidence to enjoy it again, knowing that as much as possible is being done to keep them safe," he said.
"Since Sunday I have spoken regularly to Salt Surf Club President Greg Lovett, discussing the options available to us to help minimise the risk of attacks moving forward and, provide the confidence to locals and visitors to go back into the water.
"We know that it is impossible to fully eliminate the risk however, one of the most effective ways to prevent shark incidents is to have as many eyes on the water as possible - whether they be from the sky, the beach or the water - to assist lifeguards and volunteer lifesavers to spot any potential risks as they occur." The Tweed Community and other communities of the NSW Far North Coast will urgently require a resurgence in tourism and visitation confidence post COVD-19. The recent fatal shark attack risks diluting this confidence and that is why the Tweed Community needs the NSW Government to commit to provide increased and ongoing support to shark management strategies."