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Environment and Communications References Committee
20/04/2017
Shark mitigation and deterrent measures

PICKARD, Mayor Troy, City of Joondalup

[14:01]

CHAIR: I now welcome Mayor Troy Pickard, Mayor of the City of Joondalup. Troy, I do not know if you have a surfboard as well. You are welcome to bring it forward if you have one. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. I do not think we have a submission from you, but feel free to make a brief opening statement. Then we will ask you some questions.

Mayor Pickard : Thank you, Chair and fellow senators. I welcome the opportunity to be invited to speak with you today. I think it would be fair to say that the City of Joondalup is a leading local government not only in Western Australia but nationally in embracing some shark mitigation strategies and successfully so. I will share with you the brief journey that we have taken in recent times.

Towards the end of 2012 I was concerned at a spate of shark sightings close to our beach which resulted in a summit that I called with relevant stakeholders in our community, including two surf clubs—Mullaloo and Sorrento surf clubs—and other stakeholders, including Surf Life Saving Western Australia, Department of Fisheries and also a number of experts in the shark field. Off our coastline, there are two beacons that work on an acoustic device that is managed by Fisheries WA. One is off Mullaloo and the other is off Ocean Reef. We had a series of triggers dozens of times over the space of a week. Based on some advice I had received from professionals that sharks are not territorial and that they are not predators, the information that I received in relation to the frequent triggering was that two sharks were congregating off the shelf of our coastline and, over a period of a week, returning regularly to our beach, which required numerous closures.

In 2014, the former state government worked with us to explore an opportunity to embrace a beach enclosure. We were comfortable with the concept. At that stage the state government committed $200,000 and the City of Joondalup was prepared to match it. The beach enclosure is to the south of Hillarys marina. Hillarys marina is the No. 2 tourist attraction in the metropolitan area in Western Australia. It is located in the City of Joondalup. We designed three different-sized beach enclosures. We formed a view that it would be best to have the largest possible beach enclosure for our coastline, which was at a cost of $910,000. That was significantly more than the contribution that the state government had originally offered. We prepared a case to the former Barnett government and demonstrated to them that we were having to incur some additional costs because of the depth of the coastline where the marina is and also having to secure the beach enclose to the rock wall of the southern groin of the marina. We were fortunate in having the grant doubled by the state government. They provided $400,000 and we contributed the remaining $510,000. We promoted it as a regional facility.

It would be fair to say it has been a significant success. We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people using Sorrento Beach as a safe swimming destination. They are not only from our community; there are a significant number of people coming from outside the city of Joondalup. Sorrento Beach is a very popular beach anyway, but we now have an asset in our city that is attracting visitations from other local governments across the metropolitan area. The northern corridor of Perth has a high proportion of immigrants—40 per cent of our community were born overseas—and many of them are not competent and comfortable in the ocean, so it provides them with peace of mind. Not only is there a surf club with an appropriate lifeguard on duty, but indeed there is now a beach enclosure.

The eco shark barrier is designed to allow fish to swim through. It is permanently anchored to the sea floor. It runs for 430 metres south of the Hillarys marina and extends 270 metres out to the coastline. So it is the largest beach enclosure in Western Australia, and it is our understanding that it is actually the largest beach enclosure in Australia. It is made of processed plastic that obviously stops larger marine animals swimming through but allows for smaller ones.

CHAIR: Can I just clarify at this point—we are talking about the eco barrier?

Mayor Pickard : Correct.

CHAIR: Is it the same as the one at Safety Bay?

Mayor Pickard : Correct. And at a local government in New South Wales, Ballina Shire Council.

We have not had a full winter because we opened it at the beginning of summer last year, so this will be its first winter. But we are confident, based on the robustness of the beach enclosure, that it will be a suitable asset to remain in situ so that people can enjoy safe swimming for 12 months of the year.

The second interesting pillar that differentiates our city from other local governments in embracing shark mitigation strategies is the active involvement of the Mullaloo Surf Life Saving Club. A member of theirs was in fact a victim of a shark attack who survived. That created an impetus within the club to embrace other strategies above and beyond what we were addressing as a city. In fact, they replicated the system that Fisheries WA established but brought the acoustic devices a lot closer to the coast and they integrated the buoys into an audio and visual alert system. Invariably, at the moment, when a tagged shark triggers a Fisheries beacon it sends various alerts to Surf Life Saving WA and other monitors people are registered to. However, if an individual is in the water they are not going to receive that alert. The system the Mullaloo Surf Life Saving Club established, called BeachLAB, creates an environment—

CHAIR: That is the only one in the country, too?

Mayor Pickard : Correct. It creates a one-kilometre catchment in front of the surf club through two buoys that are a lot closer to the coastline. They trigger if a tagged shark enters that area and sends alerts not only to Surf Life Saving WA and Fisheries but to monitors that are located in the dune system that sound alarms and have a flashing light after eight pm, which provides an audiovisual alert for swimmers in the event they are actually located in the water and the beach is not actively patrolled, like on a weekday. They are two initiatives that demonstrate that our city is very much a leading advocate for shark mitigation strategies, and we bear the associated costs for the benefit of our community.

CHAIR: We heard evidence from Surf Life Saving Western Australia today about City Beach, that perhaps there has been too much activity and it has disrupted the beach-going experience. Have you found similar with your system at Mullaloo, where people are getting frustrated if they have got to spend an hour or two out of the water after each alarm?

Mayor Pickard : I spoke with the president last night for an update on the system, and I think it would be fair to say that no-one is concerned about exiting the water if the alarm goes off, because that means that within literally several hundred metres there is a tagged shark. I think they would be happy to hop in and out of the water several dozen times if it meant that they were safe.

Senator REYNOLDS: How often has the alert gone off? How regularly is it picking up sharks?

Mayor Pickard : I do not know; I am sorry.

Senator REYNOLDS: Do you mind taking that on notice? It would be interesting to know what the frequency is.

Mayor Pickard : Yes. I am happy to. To further elaborate, the difference between Mullaloo and City Beach is the technology—one is sonar and one is acoustic. My understanding is that, with a sonar system, the technology is not quite there to refine the difference between a shark, a dolphin and a seal, whereas the acoustic system responds just to sharks if there is an imminent threat of a shark in the area.

CHAIR: Given we do not know how many sharks are out there or how many have been tagged as part of that population, do you have other measures in place like jet skis or aerial surveillance?

Mayor Pickard : We do not engage those strategies. We obviously have those mechanisms in place, but that is managed by Surf Life Saving WA.

CHAIR: Yes. They are an overlay in these areas, are they? So they do a bit of everything?

Mayor Pickard : Absolutely. The president of Mullaloo surf club made an interesting comment last night. He felt that an integrated network of sonar and acoustic, connected to a smart system that learns the sonar profile of a shark, would provide the most robust system but, more importantly, would ensure that a system is developed and learns the footprint of a shark so that, when a seal or a dolphin enters the area, it does not send off an alert that forces people to get out of the water.

CHAIR: I went for a swim at the Safety Bay eco net—I took my goggles and went down and had a look, and ended up doing some laps, because it is quite a long enclosure. There is not much energy there in the water. In the areas where you are, is there any swell coming into the beaches?

Mayor Pickard : There is, but not to the extent of Scarborough and Trigg, which are located about 10 to 15 kilometres further south. We have some offshore reefs that take a lot of the energy out of the swell, but nonetheless, when there is a sea breeze blowing, it is rough. I would not call it a rolling swell, but it gets rough and choppy—

CHAIR: But it has withstood that?

Mayor Pickard : and, to date, it has withstood those forces.

Senator LINES: Mayor Pickard, you said the total cost was about $910,000 and that the Barnett government contributed $400,000. What are the ongoing maintenance costs?

Mayor Pickard : It costs about $40,000 a year to maintain the structure. That involves visual inspections by divers from the Eco Shark Barrier company, and that was part of the procurement contract.

Senator LINES: That is a cost that the council is picking up?

Mayor Pickard : Correct.

Senator LINES: Is the rock wall one of the reasons that Hillarys was suitable?

Mayor Pickard : It actually presented a challenge in an engineering sense.

Senator LINES: I am wondering about, say, South Beach—I guess you have got the port on one side—where there is no rock wall.

Mayor Pickard : The reason why that was chosen was that it is already a very popular beach. It is a popular destination.

Senator LINES: Not because of the rock wall?

Mayor Pickard : Not primarily because of the rock wall. The added advantage of the rock wall is that we were able to anchor effectively what would have ordinarily been the northwest corner onto a rock face. In fact, the southern east-west line is anchored to a smaller groyne that is situated a bit over 400 metres south of the Hillarys marina rock wall. In fact, either ends of the beach enclosure are anchored onto rock walls and the remainder are through concrete anchors that are located at various points across the seabed.

Senator LINES: We have heard evidence today that nets are not always safe. What is the difference with this; that is anchored at the top and the bottom?

Mayor Pickard : It is a durable material, so it is going to withstand over time the forces of the maritime environment. It provides a secure barrier that cannot be penetrated by larger marine mammals.

Senator LINES: Has that been independently verified? Where is that claim from?

Mayor Pickard : There has been no breach of our enclosure and there has been no recorded breach of enclosures of the other two systems that were installed. We went out for tender. We investigated a number of technologies. We shortlisted them to two. One was a rope and a plastic integrated network. The system that we chose was a fully plastic integrated network.

Senator LINES: Is there independent verification of the safety of this type of net?

Mayor Pickard : That is a question best asked of Eco Shark Barrier. What we were concerned about was the durability. A layer of our decision making was what impact that barrier would have on the marine life. We were provided with sufficient comfort that that barrier was not going to adversely impact any marine mammals and would still allow for smaller fish to pass through the barrier. In fact, they play an important role in cleaning the barrier from the algae build up.

Senator LINES: With council funds being tight, I would have thought council would have looked for independent verification, particularly in relation to claims about marine life and safety.

Mayor Pickard : We did appropriate due diligence.

Senator LINES: Due diligence is something different. I am saying that council did not seek independent verification that this product was in fact going to be able to do what it claimed it could do.

Mayor Pickard : There was no technical report presented to council. The tender process is administered by the administration of the city and they report through to council. I did not see any reports of an independent assessment of the veracity of any of the claims. It is an assessment that the officers made, and through a process of presentations and responding to various questions.

Senator LINES: I do not want to push the point, but with the other products that have come before us today—the methods of controlling sharks or mitigating shark attacks—we have asked that question: what is the independent scientific evaluation? Chair, if Mayor Pickard doesn't know, maybe we could see if there has been any independent verification.

CHAIR: We did try to get Eco Shark Barrier here but they were not available. My understanding is that they have gone through this process themselves. We will see if we can find that out.

Senator LINES: Thanks very much.

Senator SIEWERT: I want go back to the Mullaloo example with the buoys coming closer to shore. How close are they to shore?

Mayor Pickard : I asked that exact question as I was entering. That was a question that I did not have the answer to. It is 250 metres from the beach.

Senator SIEWERT: You have been working with Fisheries to link them in.

Mayor Pickard : It is an initiative managed solely by the surf club. We obviously supported them and we have worked with them in the location of the buoys and the like. But, yes, they have been working with not only fisheries but also Surf Life Saving WA, and their network integrates into the fisheries system as well. And, as I said, it is 250 metres from the shoreline, whereas the fisheries boys are a kilometre off the shoreline.

Senator SIEWERT: Going back to the eco barrier, has the club been monitoring whether or not use has gone up in the area of Sorrento Beach?

Mayor Pickard : Yes, absolutely, and there has been a significant increase in usage since the opening of the beach enclosure. We had to install an additional 72 car bays, and we are still experiencing some challenges with parking there, which is always a sign of visitation. I spent a bit of time down there during the Christmas break to see for myself, and people are there from very early in the morning till late at night. There has most definitely been an increase in the number of visitors at Sorrento Beach using the beach enclosure.

Senator REYNOLDS: First of all, congratulations, Mayor Pickard. It is wonderful to see a local council taking a leap of faith—albeit a calculated one—in carrying out this measure. It is 430 metres wide and goes 250 metres out, so that provides the zone. Are you looking further? If people are swimming beyond the enclosure, are you now looking at what other measures you can take to enhance things for them?

Mayor Pickard : Not at this point in time. We made a conscious decision, when we assessed the three various designs, of investing in an enclosure that was as large as we could feasibly construct—from an engineering perspective and also financially. We did that because we knew it would be a popular asset for not only our community but other Western Australians who enjoy swimming on the coast and want to do so with peace of mind. It is nowhere near capacity as a swimming enclosure. We have a number of groynes located along our coastline south of the marina, so there are opportunities down the track to expand that network, but we consciously decided to build it big from day one, so that it was futureproof.

Senator REYNOLDS: You may need to take this on notice, but there are clearly lessons and opportunities from your example for other councils right along the Western Australia coastline. Have you thought about putting a paper together on the lessons learnt, costs and things that you could or would do better elsewhere? It would be a great message to share with others.

Mayor Pickard : I have no doubt that the CEO would embrace the opportunity to—

Senator REYNOLDS: Can I please ask you to take that on notice for us to have a look at to start with, with the possibility of then sharing the good news further around the state.

Mayor Pickard : I am happy to.

Senator LINES: We have heard claims and counterclaims this morning about all sorts of numbers. You said that beach usage has been up, but it is fair to say that the Hillarys marina also has new venues and has had something of a facelift over the last six months. For example, I am a south-of-the-river person, absolutely through and through, yet I have been up to Hillarys and I would not normally go up. Unless you have scientific evidence or some kind of verification, I think it is a bit unsound to simply say that the netted beach has increased patronage of the beach, because the Hillarys area has also been upgraded.

Mayor Pickard : With respect, Hillarys marina has not been upgraded in the last six months—

Senator LINES: There are new venues there.

Mayor Pickard : The newest venue at Hillarys marina was opened some seven years ago, so there has been no enhancement to the facilities at Hillarys marina. It is a wonderful asset for our city and for our community, but there has been no upgrade in facilities there. The breakwater was the last upgrade there, and that was seven years ago.

Senator LINES: Well, obviously the public think there has been.

CHAIR: Could you ask a question on notice.

Senator LINES: Can you maybe provide the numbers and what verification there is?

Mayor Pickard : I am happy to ask if the officers have any documentation through traffic counts and parking counts, pre and post the enclosure. If that is available I am happy to provide it.

Senator REYNOLDS: Also information from local businesses showing the impact on them—any information that you have like that, perhaps longitudinally, would be gratefully received.

Mayor Pickard : I am happy to.

CHAIR: We will give you some guidance on that. Thank you very much to appearing today. We would love to have you for longer, but we appreciate it.