Shark spotting program to start ‘as a matter of urgency’
A SHARK spotting program will be set up on the North Coast "as a matter of urgency", with crews aiming to prevent attacks on swimmers and surfers.
The volunteer program, which is an Australian first, will target beaches between Ballina and Lennox Head.
Shark Watch spokesman Andrew Nieuwenhof said they hoped to have crews out in the field "as soon as possible" following a planning meeting later this month and intensive training for volunteers.
"We are moving ahead with this; we don't want to wait. We need to be out there," he said.
"It will put people to the test - people are complaining about sharks, this is their chance to do something positive."
Mr Nieuwenhof said the Shark Watch group had not yet decided which exact beaches would be covered by the crews, but it will be up for discussion at the June 19 meeting.
Based on a successful South African model, the local Shark Watch organisation aims to provide an effective warning system.
Crew members will use polarised sunglasses, scopes and binoculars, and will be fully trained to scan the ocean looking for sharks.
When a shark is sighted close to shore, a flag and siren will alert people to get out of the water.
Mr Nieuwenhof said the warning flag will remain in place "until the coast is considered clear", so that people arriving at the beach will know a shark has been sighted.
"We're also planning to use drones to increase coverage and effectiveness," he said.
"This is a proven, non-lethal method of shark control.
"A vital part of the Shark Watch program is that volunteers will be trained in emergency response in the event of a shark bite.
"Shark Watch volunteers are likely to be some of the first people on the scene in the event of a bite.
"They'll be able to respond immediately, and alert emergency services."
Shark Watch will also be involved in public education about particular ocean conditions that may increase the likelihood of a shark encounter, and the role sharks play in the ecology and health of the ocean.
As a volunteer organisation, Shark Watch will be dependent on members' fees, donations and sponsorship.
The group's first sponsor is Harcourts Northern Rivers Real Estate.
Shark Watch will have its first meeting at Australian Seabird Rescue, 264 North Creek Rd, Ballina, at 1pm on Sunday, June 19. All welcome.