Shark spotters could warn beachgoers of the presence of large sharks such as this one, spotted from the air off Cabarita.
Shark spotters could warn beachgoers of the presence of large sharks such as this one, spotted from the air off Cabarita. contributed

South African shark spotters en route to Ballina

SHARK spotters from South Africa will speak at a forum in Ballina this month as part of a tour arranged by Sea Shepherd and the No Shark Cull group.

The system involves surveillance towers, information boards, flags and volunteers which educate beach users about the chance of shark activity along a patrolled beach and alert swimmers of any impending danger.

Supporters argue it has proven effective at reducing attacks, with only one fatality recorded at a patrolled beach in the last 11 years since the program was rolled out, which happened on a low visibility day when black warning flags were on display.

Shark spotting has the added benefit of having no impact on marine life, unlike nets and drum lines.

A crowd-funding campaign spearheaded by the two conservation groups successfully funded the tour, which will also include events in Sydney and Western Australia.

Local marine ecologist Jann Gilbert said the March 17 forum was a great opportunity for people to educate themselves about the shark spotting and how it was organised in South Africa.

Ms Gilbert said just like Surf Life Saving in Australia, the shark spotting program relied on volunteers but its singular focus is what made it effective.

“We know how well Surf Life Saving works, but they don’t need the added responsibility of shark spotting,” Ms Gilbert said.

“But set up on a similar platform with the right equipment the shark spotters could possibly work from existing Surf Life Saving club houses.

“Used in conjunction with drones... I think it would be one of the best way to keep people safe.”

Training of volunteers would be needed, plus an incorporated structure that allowed applications for government grants and legal indemnity.

In Australia, life savers have traditionally assumed responsibility for shark spotting, something some argue is stretching their already hampered volunteer resources.

“The key point is that life savers are already dealing with something that kills far more people,” Ms Gilbert said.

“I don’t think it’s fair for them to take it on, but there’s no reason why a sister organisations can’t be created.”

“They have had one fatality on 11 years on patrolled shark spotters beaches – that’s a much better record than anything else that we’ve got at this point in time.”

The Ballina forum will be held at Dunes on Shelly Beach in East Ballina on March 17 at 6.30pm.