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Environment and Communications References Committee
Shark mitigation and deterrent measures

BUXTON, Mr Chad Latham, Marine Scientist and Volunteer, Sunshine Coast Environment Council

HAYS, Miss Leah, Coordinator, Sunshine Coast Environment Council


CHAIR: Welcome. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. Would you like to make a brief opening statement, and then the committee will ask you some questions.

Miss Hays : Before I do, I feel it necessary to point out that before moving to the Sunshine Coast 18 months ago to take on my role, I was a resident here, in Lennox Head actually, for five years, and I studied environmental science under some of the experts that were present today. I was, and still am, a very prominent part of the surfing community down here.

CHAIR: To make it clear for the record: you are also a surfer?

Miss Hays : That is correct; I am also a surfer.

CHAIR: Senator Urquhart will be very happy about that! I think we have evened the numbers today.

Miss Hays : I think we have. The Sunshine Coast Environment Council would, firstly, like to say thank you for the hard work of your committee and for initiating this Senate inquiry, which is so imperative in order to come to better conclusions throughout the country. And thank you also for providing us the opportunity to make comments.

The Sunshine Coast Environment Council is a regional environmental advocacy organisation, working to promote and protect the natural values of Queensland's beautiful Sunshine Coast. SCEC work with more than 60 of our member groups to achieve the best possible outcomes for our region, and to ensure an environmental policy that is reflective of a sustainable future.

SCEC acknowledge and deeply sympathise with the trauma and tragedy to humans that shark bites cause. We would like to be explicitly clear that, as an organisation, SCEC do not value marine life over that of humans. Instead, we acknowledge the importance and value of coexisting in a healthy marine environment, and recognise the need to respect the natural habitat of marine life. As a central thread in a highly populated coastal community, we really acknowledge and understand the complexities surrounding human-shark encounters and the mitigation that is required for this. We also acknowledge the Queensland government's stance to put human safety above all else, and to maintain the public perception that they are doing all that they can to keep ocean users safe; however, we strongly feel that the Queensland government need to enhance and actually legitimise their efforts to ensure human safety.

At present in Queensland, shark mitigation measures are limited to outdated technologies that include baited drum lines and shark nets. In fact, on the Sunshine Coast alone we have 75 drum lines and 14 nets. We are of the opinion that both measures lack integrity with regard to providing proven protection to ocean users. As an island nation, with 85 per cent of our population living within 50 kilometres of the coast, increased funding channelled into apex predator research and active implementation of available nonlethal technologies is absolutely essential and imperative for the protection both of ocean users and marine life.

Regionally on the Sunshine Coast, our concerns are around beachgoers' safety, the unjust amount of innocent bycatch, ecosystem health and entanglement concerns for migrating humpback whales. In 2016 we had seven humpbacks entangled in South-East Queensland equipment. We find it surprising that today the Gold Coast has been given somewhat of a gold star or a tick for not having any attacks when the sheer amount of bycatch in Queensland is absolutely devastating. We have had 84,000—let me repeat, 84,000—threatened species caught in current equipment since it has been in operation, so since the 1960s, and there has been no proof that these have been effective in protecting lives.

Thus, we propose the immediate phase-out of shark mitigation equipment currently deployed along Queensland beaches, and, at a minimum, during whale migration season, which is between May and September. I would also like to point out that this figure of 84,000 includes more than 1,000 dolphins, 700 dugongs and more than 5,000 turtles. Given only one in 1,000 turtles make it to sexual maturity, this number is disgusting and we have an international obligation to be protecting these species. Of particular concern to us today, and on the Sunshine Coast, is our stance on the shocking number of the critically endangered east coast grey nurse population. We have had 23 grey nurse deaths in the last 10 years, which might not sound like much, but, given there are less than 250 sexually mature grey nurse sharks, we look like we are fast-tracking it to species extinction. That is not good.

In replacement of the nets, we are advocating that the Queensland government commence trialling alternative, non-lethal technologies as soon as possible. We also advocate for a dedicated education campaign to mitigate any further impacts and, most importantly, to change the current narrative around Australia and its shark population.

CHAIR: Did you have anything to add, Mr Buxton?

Mr Buxton : Yes. I will take a few minutes just to focus on one particular shark, the grey nurse shark, and also talk a little bit more broadly about the education that we are proposing.

What you may not know about grey nurse sharks is that they are federally listed as critically endangered and they are internationally listed as vulnerable, on the IUCN red list. We have a recovery plan and an issues paper, which was produced in 2014, on this species. The current shark control methods that we have pose an unacceptable risk to this particular species, particularly on the Sunshine Coast. The grey nurse shark was the first shark in the world to be protected. It is currently estimated, as Leah said, that there are only 250 sexually mature adults left on the east coast. If you think about that, the 23 that we are talking about that have been caught in this program alone constitute almost 10 per cent of the population. It is also important to note that that does not include unreported mortalities from the program or recreational fishing, which has been specifically identified as a serious risk to the grey nurse shark.

As managers, there is often the question: do we have the science necessary to inform a decision, to make a management decision? In the case of the grey nurse shark, I would argue that the answer is yes. We have behavioural data, genetic data, data showing family structure, tracking data and even migration data. So what do we know about the sharks specifically? We know that they migrate and they breed quite similarly to whales. They are moving up and down the coast. We know that they are curious and non-aggressive. I do not know if you have been in the water with them, but I have. They are amazing animals. They just unfortunately have a lot of teeth and they look very ferocious, but they are gentle giants.

CHAIR: They look like they need braces sometimes!

Mr Buxton : They certainly do. Unfortunately they are also extremely unfecund. They only have one or two young, during a birthing cycle, every two years. The reason for that is that the young actually cannibalise each other inside the mother. It is a survival strategy, because the one or two that come out are really strong because they have eaten all their brothers and sisters. Unfortunately that means they are not like other fish and other shark species, where they have a huge population every time the mother decides to give birth. That makes them extremely vulnerable.

The research shows that they are extremely unlikely to be caught on drum lines. A study done in 2014 shows that these sharks are very unlikely to attack stuff that is floating in the water column. They tend to be benthic feeders and they eat stuff that is on the bottom of the ocean floor. Unfortunately, I was not able at this time to get the data—and I do not know if they were tracking it since 2014—about where those 23 grey nurse sharks were caught, but I suspect almost all of them were caught in nets, not on drum lines. One other point about grey nurse sharks is that, in terms of media and public perception and concern about the grey nurse shark, there was a study done in 2011 showing that the plight of the grey nurse shark has become more severe and that concern and interest in preserving this species rises correspondingly as the numbers of these sharks dwindle.

I will shift focus now to education and public perception. I am sure you have already heard the statistic that you are more likely to die from a bee sting, from being stepped on by an elephant or from falling out of your chair—there are more deaths per year from all of those things—than from a shark, and yet the public perception of risk and actual fear remain very high. There is a disconnect that is not factual, but it is an emotional issue. That is largely due to media sensationalism. Sharks sell, creating a perceived threat. It is a perceived threat. The facts do not bear it out. What you probably do not hear much about is that, last year alone, 130 people died on our coasts and our beaches; only two people died of shark attacks. I bet that you do not remember two; you probably remember that there were a lot—maybe four, six or 10—but it was two compared to 130 other fatalities on our beaches.

I think that it is past time for us to change the narrative of the argument. This is not an issue of whether a shark's life is more important than a human's or vice versa. If anyone should be worried, it is the sharks. Twelve people died in the entire world last year due to sharks. Over 100,000 sharks died in the same period. If anyone should be worried, it is the sharks. The data about beach deaths shows that we are less at risk of dying by a shark than we are by having a drink and jumping in the ocean, being caught by a rip or being hit by a sailboat or a motorboat. The conversation needs to change. How can we do this better? How can we stop killing endangered animals in our oceans? It is not just sharks that we are talking about. We are talking about a lot of protected species that these nets are killing.

Specifically, sharks occupy a similar ecological niche to saltwater crocodiles. I do not know if you have heard about it, but we have the Crocwise program in the Far North. That is designed to protect crocodiles, which are also an apex predator. We already have a program in place that is similar to what we could possibly suggest to do with sharks—not killing them, but protecting them. We envision that you can use some of the methods in the Crocwise program, like signs. We have already heard today from Mr Bucher. He said that there are places he would not go, or places he would not go when the sky was grey. Ms Gilbert said that she would never surf at a river mouth. We are already applying some of our own knowledge to this, so why don't we have signs for that? Why don't we have signs warning of risk instead of removing these apex predators from an environment? We can have signage that gives clear information about specific areas and conditions of risk.

We envision a shark smart state. I know that this is something that New South Wales has already coined, but we need to reduce the media sensationalism of these attacks, foster an appropriate respect for all of our ocean animals, and invest in further research of the behaviours of the few species of concerning sharks. I might point out that there are only two or three shark species, out of 350, that actually pose a threat or have been implicated in an attack on humans. That gives you a very clear idea of where to focus your research. We should embrace deterrent solutions that are effective and responsible instead of sticking to a false sense of security and unsustainable methods.

I have one last comment. I feel that nets are instruments of mass destruction. We unequivocally do not support expanding nets into further regions, which has been suggested—moving them from the Gold Coast down into New South Wales. They are archaic devices and they need to be pulled out of our oceans as a matter of urgency.

Senator WILLIAMS: I am very interested in your comment that recreational fishing has caused a lot of harm and damage to the grey nurse. Can you explain that? I am a recreational fisher; I go fishing about once every 15 years—I live out in the bush. If someone is throwing a line in and catching a fish, how has that caused damage? I am ignorant on it, basically.

Mr Buxton : Here at Julian Rocks, prior to it being zoned as a marine protection area, you were able to go out and fish. We know that grey nurse sharks actually exhibit extreme curiosity. There are several studies that looked at the behaviour between divers and grey nurse sharks. They actively come towards people and they—

Senator WILLIAMS: So you are referring to recreational fishing as being diving at the time—

Mr Buxton : Not necessarily divers. It could be spear fishermen or it could be fishing off of a boat.

Senator WILLIAMS: So you are not referring to the bloke standing on the jetty?

Mr Buxton : No. In Queensland, there are only five aggregation sites. From my knowledge, none of those aggregation sites are off of the beach. If you were to encounter the aggregation sites, you would have to be in a boat.

Senator WILLIAMS: And you were saying that grey nurses migrate?

Mr Buxton : Yes. There have been studies in the US. I do not know if there have been specific studies looking at how they are moving up and down the coast here, but I believe that there is some data.

Senator WILLIAMS: They are obviously a protected species here in Australian waters. What action are other countries taking to protect the species? Do you know of any?

Mr Buxton : I do not have that information.

Senator WILLIAMS: Miss Hays?

Miss Hays : No.

Mr Buxton : I believe that they are probably protected elsewhere, but I do not know. I can look it up for you.

Senator WILLIAMS: Perhaps that is something to look at. You say that we have gone down to 250 adults of breeding capability on the east coast of Australia.

Mr Buxton : Yes.

Senator WILLIAMS: They do migrate, so, if you do the right thing here by trying to protect them, surely other countries should be doing the same as well. If you go to Thailand, there are fishing boats everywhere, and they just drag everything they can out of the water, for human consumption.

Mr Buxton : When I say 'migrate', yes, they do move up and down, but they are local aggregations and local migrations. We have a west coast population of grey nurse sharks as well as an east coast, but they do not intermingle. They do not go around the coast and they do not crossbreed with each other. They are isolated and unique.

Senator URQUHART: Are they the same species?

Mr Buxton : Yes, they are the same species. They are genetically diverse, but they are the same species.

Senator WILLIAMS: Miss Hays, you said in your opening statement that the Queensland government is now putting human safety above everything else.

Miss Hays : Yes. I would say that this has been articulated quite clearly. Not too long ago, Premier Palaszczuk stood up and said that the Queensland government will not be making any changes to the Queensland Shark Control Program and that human life does need to be valued above. This anthropocentric view is what got us into this mess in the first place. As Chad mentioned, it is about changing the narrative. It is not about shark versus human anymore and who is valued over the other. It is about how we can coexist in the marine environment and protect habitat and people better.

Senator WILLIAMS: When you made your statement, it appeared that way. It looks like: who is most important—the sharks or the humans? Would you disagree with the Queensland Premier's statement that she is putting human safety above everything else? You disagree with that sort of statement?

Miss Hays : I do indeed.

Senator WILLIAMS: Do you think animals and humans should be treated equally?

Miss Hays : Absolutely.

Senator URQUHART: A lot of my questions were picked up in your very comprehensive thing, so thank you. Being the last gig is always hard, but I am wide awake because it was quite interesting.

Mr Buxton : Before you start, can I mention something—sorry to interrupt you. I have just received an email about the news coverage that we are getting already. I want to highlight something to you which I find concerning. The other thing that I was told was that we are having audio trouble, so this is not streaming. I find that unfortunate, because I do not see any reporters here, so I do not think that any of the afternoon session is going to the wider public. But what has already come out is this. Basically, it says: 'Don't mess with our Shark Control Program. It echoes warnings from Surf Life Saving and surfing chiefs about the risk of tampering with the program that shark-proofs 85 beaches between Cairns and the Gold Coast.' This is the message that is coming across already, and this is what we are trying to fight against: the media sensationalism, such as calling things shark-proofing. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to support that this is shark-proofing anything. In fact, there was a study done in 2016—last year—on Australia Day in Sydney Harbour on bull sharks. They tracked the movements of over 20 bull sharks in Sydney Harbour, and they overlaid that with beach populations that were using the water at the time. They overlapped. There were bull sharks everywhere that the people were. So you are having shark encounters all the time; you just do not realise it. You are not shark-proofing anything. The only way to shark-proof anything is to completely enclose a beach, which is not feasible.

Miss Hays : I would like to add to that. Noosa is a very popular surfing spot—internationally renowned. There are no shark nets at the national park there, and there has never been a shark incident. That can be compared to Byron Bay. It is the same sort of population of surfers in the water. At Coolum Beach we have a shark net. Recently, a shark was found 50 metres offshore. The surf lifesavers were successful in notifying swimmers to evacuate the beach. There is a shark net installed at this beach. There is, again, no proof to say that these nets and mitigation strategies are doing anything to protect people.

Senator URQUHART: The media has been one of my themes, as well as education, particularly in terms of what role it might play in education and advising the public about the use of our waterways et cetera—when not to go in the water and that sort of stuff. But it does not seem to happen, which is disappointing. I am not sure how we change that. I would like to give that some more thought, and maybe we can come up with a recommendation.

Miss Hays : You raise a really good point there. This provides a real opportunity for Australia to stand up and be leading innovators with regard to shark research. At the moment, the media are doing anything but. My statement before was: 'Yes, I do agree that we should value marine life on par with humans.' A majority of people do not understand the ecology of the ocean and the role that sharks play. Remove sharks, you remove your whole fishing industry and then humans will really understand the value of that.

CHAIR: My understanding it was actually the fishing industry that helped lobby for the great whites' protection in the first place because of the number of seals that were causing trouble in the fishing grounds. There are unintended consequences.

Mr Buxton : Take the savanna in Africa, if we were to remove all the lions, that would not be a palatable solution to the public. It is equivalent of what we are doing.

Senator WILLIAMS: We have had that analogy today.

Senator URQUHART: Yes. We just need to keep focusing on it and if we cannot do it through the media then I guess we have to do it through our communities. I do not live in a community where people have lost their lives or been badly injured through shark attacks, so I do not know how it feels to live in a community like that. What I am hearing is that it is very divided which is very sad. I think communities need to come together and support one another around these times. It just seems that it is quite an emotive issue. You have two sets of people who are on either side instead of trying to come together. That sort of reporting certainly does not help.

You talked about more research being necessary. I asked the question before of one of the academics: how much research is out there? I like to operate on the science because that is the basis, rather than on rumour and innuendo. I think we have to rely on science whether we like it or not to give us the valuable information to be able to make decisions. How much more research do we need?

CHAIR: Could I also ask you to comment on the wording in your submission, that you think it is 'negligent' having the current level of funding on this issue.

Miss Hays : I am really glad you brought that up. I would like to use this as an opportunity to commend the New South Wales government for the $16 million they have invested into looking into this. In comparison, Queensland have not done that. That statement in the submission is specifically aimed at the Queensland government. We would like to see them utilising the technologies that have already proven somewhat successful.

In regard to research, much more research is needed in to campaigning strategies—how we can effectively educate the people. Chad mentioned the crocwise campaign which has been hugely successfully.

Senator URQUHART: Do you know the cost of the crocwise program?

Mr Buxton : No. In doing the submission, I never looked into the cost. From experience and from living in Far North Queensland, it is a very clear message that comes across. Every time someone dies from a croc there are calls in the media to cull them, but there is the strong message and the clear message about their importance in the environment and the critical role that they play in the environment that we have to coexist with them. It seems like a good method and a good way forward because they share such similar ecological roles. They both have the fear factor. They are both aquatic dwellers. They both hide. You cannot see them. That is what causes the fear. If you can remove that fear and give people an indication of the actual risk therein—that is what we are talking about here, the fear of risk. People want the nets because they are afraid. They are afraid when they go to the beach that if they are not there, they might be eaten by a shark. But the actual risk is so miniscule that they should not be afraid at all. Unfortunately the media creates that fear. If you have a clear message like crocwise and it is consistent, I think it works.

Miss Hays : We would also like to see signage at all beaches to show people what a shark net is; the fact that it is only 196 metres across and six metres deep, and what the species are.

CHAIR: There is some at Lighthouse Beach, I understand. I have taken some photos. There are a couple of signs there with a diagram of the net.

Miss Hays : Actually you are right; I did see that and that is great. It would be great to have that in Queensland.

Mr Buxton : In my experience, if you explain to someone what a net actually is—it is a mythical thing because you cannot see it. You can see the buoy and you know it is there. Everyone tells you that there are nets on these beaches and they are patrolled. We need to explain to people that a shark can go over that net, under that net, around that net and that it is only 150 metres.. Most sharks are actually caught on the inside of the net going out, so where is the value of that?

Ms Hays : That is why we say that the Queensland government has been negligent. If they were actually actively putting in different technologies, like the New South Wales government, I would recall that statement.

CHAIR: I will text you a picture. I went down there a few weeks ago and took some photos. It sounds reasonable to me that you would want to have similar things on your beaches to that at Coolum—which I have surfed fairly regularly.

Ms Hays : Great. Okay.

CHAIR: I have a friend who lives near there. I think it should be something that people should understand more about.

Senator URQUHART: My final question: what role do you see for government to play?

Mr Buxton : You asked that before and I want to address it. You are asking how much data we need. Obviously, in a perfect world, we will continually get data. But data costs money. It is my position that we have enough data to make a management decision.

Senator URQUHART: So are you saying that we have enough now?

Mr Buxton : We have enough now—

Senator URQUHART: Right.

Mr Buxton : particularly for the grey nurses, as I am trying to point out. But for others species, I think we have enough to make a management decision. You can decide to put up signs that include the risks—we know most of the risks and when the risky time is in places that are risky—you can make those management decisions. If we want to focus our money, I really like drone technology and all the other non-lethal methods. With a drone, the only caveat I would have is that there has been the suggestion that we have a citizen brigade identifying sharks. In South Australia they have shown that that is sometimes very risky because you have nonexperts identifying dangerous sharks, which can cause panic. There are technologies where we can get around this. Sensor rays can identify sharks automatically. Think about your phone. Your phone has facial recognition. It knows who you are. We have the same technology—it can be developed if it does not exist already—that can identify dangerous sharks over certain metres, or maybe even from using profiles. Sharks look different. They do not all look the same. You can have automatic recognition of these things. Innovation in these areas will go a long way. Yes, we should spend more time and money in researching this. At the same time, it does not mean that we need to keep ineffective methods that are doing virtually nothing in our waters. When I say that they are doing nothing, that is not true: they are actually killing thousands of animals every year.

Senator URQUHART: I said that was my final question but this is going to be my final question. In your submission you recommended that we discourage the practice of public social media shark reporting. I guess I disagree with that, but I am not an expert. The reason I disagree is that is it not part of the education process? Everybody is on social media in some form, or most people are on social media. Is it not a process that you can use to say. 'Okay, a drone has found a shark swimming in the water.' Isn't that a way to let people know? Is that the sort of thing you mean?

Ms Hays : Yes, that is a good question. Originally we had that same idea. We wanted to do research and look at what was happening down south—we were informed when reading the South Australian reports from surf lifeguards. Look, it is exactly that: social media is a great way to share knowledge. I think what has been happening is that when we run community-run Facebook pages—for example—there might be a delay from when somebody sees a shark to when it gets posted up. People get panicky, and they do not know what species it is. We are all for public awareness programs via social media, but for it to be run by the authorities—people who can ID sharks—and for it to be in real time.

Mr Buxton : There is no accountability in that as well so that anyone can say anything on a Facebook site. The other thing I want to mention is that there are other innovative ways. I do not know if you guys have seen the end of our submission where there is an map. It tracks sharks in real-time. If you want to engage the public, and get people actively involved in Facebook campaign, young kids who are looking at these things and getting excited about sharks and what they are doing can use innovative solutions like that.

Senator URQUHART: So why do we need a Senate inquiry to learn about that? Why is that not out there—

Mr Buxton : Maybe we have not looked!

Senator URQUHART: Does that then get back to the education process about identifying all of the tools that are out there?

Ms Hays : Absolutely. And it is actually quite fun. If you get a chance go look at it. You can look at New York City and see what size a great white is, what its name is, where its travelled and how close it comes to the shore. It is fascinating. That is the sort of engaging research and education we need to change the culture and the story that has been given to us by the blockbuster Jaws movie.

What can we do in Queensland right now? We can remove the nets. We can allow the humpbacks to come through. The nets already get removed when there is bad weather, so the logistics are already in place to make it happen. It is not going to take extra funding. It has been done. They do it in New South Wales. If Queensland does not want to go too big and remove everything, why not just remove the nets during humpback whale season?

Replace them with a drum line for now if you have to. We are strongly against lethal measures, but at least we can remove the nets that are in place.

Senator WILLIAMS: I live on a farm with my wife. We have two kelpie bitches for sheepdogs. Now and then, on the odd occasion, I have to take one of them to the vet. So they hop in the ute or the car and sit on the passenger seat. Should I tie that dog in with a seatbelt and secure them properly when I take the dog to the vet?

Miss Hays : I guess it is completely up to you. I probably would not. I think the dog could probably sit there pretty fine on its own. What would you do?

Senator WILLIAMS: I am just being curious now. If I took my grandson into town I would secure my grandson properly, wouldn't I?

Miss Hays : I guess you would probably want to, yes.

Senator WILLIAMS: My grandson's life, to me, would be more important than my dogs' lives. That is the point I would make.

Senator URQUHART: I put a harness on my dog and hook him to the seat.

Miss Hays : I think it is a very personal decision.

Senator WILLIAMS: I am just saying that my grandson's life is more important to me than my sheepdogs', even though I love my sheepdogs. When I put my kids or my grandkids in the car they are belted in properly, but I do not do that with my dogs. That is the difference.

Mr Buxton : That is where we are saying we need a change of the conversation.

Senator WILLIAMS: I cannot fathom a human life is not more important than animal life. That is the message I have today.

Miss Hays : I will leave you with that one. That is fine.

Senator WILLIAMS: I think we will agree to disagree.

CHAIR: I would say, because I love my dogs and my kids, I try to look after both of them.

Senator WILLIAMS: I love my kids more than my dogs.

CHAIR: Hopefully you would secure both of them anyway.

Miss Hays : Perhaps it is a cultural thing. Anyway, I would leave it at that.

CHAIR: I might start with you, Mr Buxton. In terms of the grey nurse population details, we are obviously pretty confident of our estimates of their population numbers at the moment and that they are under significant threat. It sounds like a very low number to me. We do not know yet what the white shark populations are, but there is genetic research being conducted at the moment that will give us a better idea. Are you concerned that a number, when it is released, will be seen—certainly by some in the media—as being a large number and therefore would support delisting of the species and potential lethal activity? What if I threw a number like 10,000 white sharks at you? Would you say that is a large number or still a low number in terms of the protection of the species?

Mr Buxton : I would say that is a large number, but there are already worldwide estimates out there. I was looking at an article a couple of hours ago which is actually in the National Geographic about what is happening with great white sharks. At a conservative estimate, the lowest estimate of sharks left in the world—I will see if I can find it.

CHAIR: This would look at South Africa, off America and New Zealand—basically, all the places we know.

Mr Buxton : I have not had a chance to read the entire article, but possibly it is a meta study where they have analysed several data sets. I guess that was a point I was also trying to get across. Information and studies do not happen in isolation only in Australia; they are happening worldwide. There are a lot of people interested in great white sharks. But the lower estimate of the population is—sorry, I will find it.

CHAIR: While you find it, perhaps I will ask Miss Hays some things. Noosa is not netted—is that what you said?

Miss Hays : That is correct, yes. I have actually got the maps in front of me here. I am happy to pass them around.

CHAIR: Could you provide them?

Miss Hays : Absolutely. There are two nets at the main beach, so that is a more or less low energy popular beach. But around Tea Tree, where there is a very popular surfing spot there are no nets.

CHAIR: A great spot. Are there drum lines there?

Miss Hays : There are. There are two drum lines out offshore.

CHAIR: Off that Tea Tree area?

Miss Hays : Yes. I can show you where it is on the map; it is a bit vague.

Senator URQUHART: Are you able to table that now?

Miss Hays : Yes.

Mr Buxton : Whilst you are doing that, I do have the number. It says in the article:

Using the lowest estimates, global great white numbers resemble the estimate for tigers, an endangered species.

So that is somewhere near 2,000. We all know the plight of tigers.

CHAIR: You mean tigers and not tiger sharks?

Mr Buxton : Tigers—the actual cat animal. So it is similar to what we have in the environment of tigers that are left. That is the low estimate of how many are left. The highest estimate would be the number of lions we have in the world, which are also classified as vulnerable. So either way you look at it—

CHAIR: What is the number of lions, as a matter of interest?

Mr Buxton : I think it was somewhere near 5,000.

CHAIR: Was that based on genetic testing where they can—

Mr Buxton : Like I said, I did not read the article enough to find the fine details.

CHAIR: Thank you for that. Can I go back to you, Miss Hays, with regard to the netted beaches, like Coolum Beach. Has there been any conversation or a discussion with local surfers and other groups about their concerns around removing those nets or their support for removing nets?

Miss Hays : Sure. You might have noticed that the Sunshine Coast Branch of the Surfrider Foundation have signed on to our submission. I would also like to point out that there are two other groups that have signed on, which we were surprised and really thrilled by given that one is a commercial dive operator and the other is a recreational fishing group—Sunfish. We thank them for those shared views.

Most of my conversations about this have been personal communications with the surfing community. I have heard several stories from people at Yaroomba Beach about the big tiger shark that used to live there at First Bay, how it got killed and how their concern is that that allows smaller, juvenile sharks to come in. When you remove a large shark from an area—it is sort of like brown snakes. You should be more weary of the younger ones because they do not know what they are doing as much. People see sharks cruise past and line up all the time, so there is conversation in that regard, but that is among surfers who already accept that these species exist.

The Sunshine Coast population is growing exponentially, and it is a big tourism hotspot. As we saw today in the media, the argument seems to be around fears that tourism is decreasing in that area. Again, that comes down to education. These people are coming from Brisbane. They do not live on the beach and they do not understand the way the ocean works. That is a bit of a generalisation, but if we had that education there I think they would see it differently.

CHAIR: Just as a matter of interest—last year I surfed Pitta Street, which is very close to Coolum Beach, and we saw a shark when we were in the water—is that netted?

Miss Hays : No, Pitta Street is not netted, as far as I know. I do not surf Pitta Street because I know it is not far from Stumers Creek—an estuary.

CHAIR: I know that now.

Miss Hays : As Caitlin was talking about earlier, down here, when you have just had storms and you are near a river mouth, commonsense says maybe it is not a good day to go out.

CHAIR: Thank you. Did you want to add something to that Mr Buxton?

Mr Buxton : I just want to add that I find the tourism thing interesting. If you talk to many of the backpackers who come over on planes, one of the first things that they identify is that Australia is a dangerous place and has so many dangerous animals that are going to kill them. You have that conversation all the time. It is just a general perception that, when you come to Australia, there are snakes that are going to kill you and there are crocodiles that are going to kill you. It is all about the message. Yes, we are worried that shark attacks are going to decrease tourism—and they do—but, when something bad happens, it decreases tourism. It does not matter whether it is a cyclone or a shark attack—the effect is the same. We need to have a positive message like: 'These are our sharks and we look after them. They might kill you, but everything else in Australia is going to kill you too!' It is all about the messaging. That is how you get around it. But the reality is that they are unlikely to kill you. That is the reality The reality is your chances of getting killed by a shark are so low—it is lower than you walking down the street and getting hit by a bus.

Senator WILLIAMS: It is a bit like terrorists. They kill people, but your chances of getting killed by a terrorist in Australia are probably very small. Hopefully it stays that way.

Mr Buxton : That is what I am saying. It is about messaging. If we do not want it to affect tourism, we need to have a strong message.

CHAIR: Thank you. Just before I go back to Miss Hays, who was the media outlet you were quoting, as a matter of interest?

Mr Buxton : That was The Courier Mail.

CHAIR: Murdoch press? I rest my case! Miss Hays, in relation to a place like Coolum Beach that has been netted, do we have the data that shows the fatalities or interactions prior to those areas being netted and drum lined?

Miss Hays : We tried our best. This is a fairly new campaign. We only just started looking into this about a year ago now. It is quite hard to get data on the Sunshine Coast or Queensland as a whole. Even when we first did the assessment and data analysis last year, the data that was on the department's website is inconsistent with what is now on there, which I did not want to bring up now. But there has been inconsistency, and I can talk to you later about that, if you would like.

CHAIR: Yes, we would be very interested to hear about that.

Mr Buxton : We have also had a lot of personal communications with experts on the Gold Coast, who, unfortunately, could not be here or write a submission, who have seen a lot more mortalities of grey nurse sharks, for example, and humpback whales, which are not recorded by the department for reasons unknown. As you asked with regard to—

CHAIR: Do you know what the records show for human interactions with sharks or deaths prior to these areas being netted? I am interested in comparing like for like. We have heard evidence that some places on the Gold Coast, that have been quoted as—if you do not mind me using the term—having a gold standard for protecting public safety, did or did not have fatalities there or interactions prior. We are kind of comparing apples with oranges, so to speak.

Miss Hays : If you do not mind, I will just quote my submission, because it is data related. This is going back to the pre-1960s. We got most of our data from a Queensland shark website, a fantastic website, where you can look at the timeline of how everything happened. The fact that there have been no direct deaths on patrolled Queensland beaches does not directly correlate, of course, with the presence of shark nets. Shark encounters have not decreased since the implementation of the Queensland Shark Control Program. Shark encounter data spanning from 1900 to the present has shown an increase in non-fatal, unprovoked shark encounters during the last 20 years, but this is to be expected because our population has more or less doubled since then. The data does reveal a decrease in shark attack fatalities, which can largely be accounted for by our advances in medicine. A good example is the man who had his leg bitten off up north, and how, back in the day, he would have died from that, but with—

CHAIR: First responders on the case and that kind of thing.

Miss Hays : That is right. That is the best we could find. Of course, you would be aware of the shark fatality that occurred on North Stradbroke Island in 2006, I think it was. We pointed that out as a typical example, as unfortunate as it was, because—had there been education in place—all of the environmental factors were contributing to that event occurring.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for your evidence today. It seems to me that your statement to the committee is very similar to what we heard from AMCS: you would like to see these lethal methods phased out and non-lethal technology brought in. The challenge for us is how far away that is. I am hopeful that this committee will do what we can to make that supercharged. To go back to your comment earlier that you almost think the amount of funding that has gone into shark research is negligent, I would say the same thing in relation to shark technologies and innovation in this area, considering what a big matter of public interest it is. It is like the old systems—it is just easier to leave the nets there and let them kill marine life, when there are other ways we could do this that protect human life and marine life. I am hopeful we are moving in the right direction. Your evidence will help in that regard. Thank you for submitting your evidence today.

I would like to note in Hansard that the first witness who was to appear before us today, Mr Ray Karam, has corresponded with the committee, and we understand there was a reason he did not appear this morning. We will speak to him about potentially giving evidence to us at some other time, maybe in one of our other hearings. So we have been in contact, and there was a reason he could not attend this morning.

I would like to thank Hansard for all their excellent work. I thank the committee staff, once again, for all their hard work and making this happen today. I thank all the witnesses, all those who made submissions and the audience. Thank you for participating.

Committee adjourned at 16 : 53