Shark crisis may force changes to surf lifesaving
WITH great white sharks circling in waist-deep water at Lighthouse Beach, Ballina, the upcoming nippers season may be suspended or relocated.
Ballina Jet Boat crewman and Surf Life Saving NSW duty officer Garry Meredith confirmed a season suspension of swimming and board training for both junior and senior members of the Ballina Lighthouse and Lismore Surf Lifesaving Club was a real possibility.
The club's executive will meet with Department of Primary Industries (DPI) scientists this morning to discuss the risks. A club meeting tonight will then address the issue.
Both Ballina mayor David Wright and Mr Meredith, who spoke to DPI scientists Dr Bob Creese and Paul Butcher yesterday, said the experts had flagged the possibility of simply staying out of the water.
"But the decision will be up to the club," Mr Meredith said.
"We don't want to see any disruption to the season but we don't want to put any of our members at risk. It's difficult."
One solution may be to relocate training to Shaws Bay, Ballina, or Lake Ainsworth at Lennox Head.
Training at Lighthouse Beach has never been suspended in the club's history.
The decision will have to be made quickly. Next month the club starts assessments and training.
"The great whites are coming up to the gutters where nippers train," explained Mr Meredith.
A DPI spokeswoman said researchers were working with stakeholders for the North Coast shark tagging program.
DPI shark expert Vic Peddemors will attend discussions later this week.
The spokeswoman said the response to the increase in shark incidents was a multi-agency one, comprising local police, Surf Life Saving NSW, local councils and Southern Cross University.
The tagging program will involve locating and tagging sharks to monitor their movement.
"Due to their expertise in dealing with shark capture and tagging, the CSIRO will be assisting DPI with this new research in the northern NSW waters," the DPI spokeswoman said.
"The tags register the natural movements of the sharks to determine the environmental and biological factors affecting shark abundance and distribution in northern NSW coastal waters."
It is thought that understanding these underlying factors will assist in identifying potential areas of increased risk to water users.
But tagging the massive great white sharks could prove challenging, Cr Wright said.
"The DPI are only experienced tagging bull sharks in Sydney - not six-metre great whites," he said.
"The good thing is that the Minister is taking the situation very seriously."
The mayor has been reassured the DPI will stay until the problem with the sharks is fixed.
Cr Wright added local rescue volunteers and clubs were stretched because of increased shark activity.
"In the last couple of weeks the jet boat rescue team have used more fuel than they have in six months," he said.