The response from authorities to a series of shark attacks on the New South Wales North Coast this season has left communities divided and angry.
Surfers have been left bloodied and bruised after several shark attacks at locations along the coast, and a recent shark sighting off Byron Bay forced tourists to evacuate beaches up and down the coast.
In October, a 25-year-old man was knocked off his board and mauled at Sharpes Beach in Ballina — the sixth attack of the year.
In December, a 62-year-old man was bitten by a great white while he was surfing just south of Forster on the NSW Mid-North Coast.
Local and state authorities have responded with drumlines, shark nets, drones and helicopters.
Drumlines, which are a type of aquatic trap used to lure and capture large sharks using baited hooks, have been dropped along the coast near Booti Booti, Boomerang and Elizabeth beaches.
Shark nets have also been deployed on five northern coast beaches for a six-month trial.
The Mayor of Ballina Shire Council, David Wright, said the beaches have been brimming with tourists since the nets went in one month ago.
“Last season we sometimes had three or four people in the water, at the moment we’ve got hundreds.
“As a matter of fact I talk to lifeguards everyday and we’re looking at getting extra lifeguards because there’s so many people and they’re not just at one spot, they’re all over the beaches.
“So it’s most likely 50 times more people in the water this year as last year and that’s not joking.”
Mr Wright said Ballina is even benefiting from some tourist migration away from unprotected parts of the coastline.
“People are coming from Byron Bay — which doesn’t have nets — they’re coming here to surf,” he said.
“We’re getting lots and lots of visitors just come down the extra 20 minutes and they’ve got a beach that’s protected.”
Concern for safety after trial ends
Dave Loosemore, who owns Dunes accommodation at Shelly Beach at East Ballina, said measures by authorities to keep swimmers safe have divided the local community.
“They’re just trying to appease everybody, which ends up appeasing no one.”
There are no shark deterrents that will guarantee the safety of swimmers and the shark nets at this point are temporary.
Mr Loosemore is concerned that he may lose his bookings if the safety measures are removed after the six month trial period.
“Anywhere on the east coast is going to be busy, it’s the periods after that that are of concern.”
While the various measures put in place to keep the sharks at bay seem to be working, the numbers of sharks in the area are still at healthy levels.
Indeed, five great white sharks were caught in northern NSW two days after the shark nets were deployed.
Tracey Donovan, who owns and runs Lennox Head Beach Front Apartments, is glad to see the extra safety measures and she said it has helped maintain her bookings.
“We’ve been absolutely full right through the season until the end of January,” she said.
“No one has cancelled at all this year and people have rebooked again for next year.”
But she said while it is good for cafes, restaurants and the seaside accommodation industry, local surf proprietors may see a dip in business.
“You wouldn’t be encouraging young kids to go and buy surfboards and things like that, so I would assume that the surfing fraternity is the one suffering the most.”