Will The Eco Shark Barriers Save Lives On The NSW North Coast?
Craig Moss, is the Western Australian based developer of the Eco Shark Barrier that will be installed by the Government on the NSW North Coast this summer.
The Eco Shark Barrier nets are 100% Recyclable and made from a strong, flexible Nylon that doesn't trap sea life like the existing nets on Sydney beaches. The nets are anchored to the seafloor and are designed for an adaptable depth and for high-energy beaches.
Mark Abriel is a surfer, health practitioner and Byron local who spoke with Craig about the possibility of placing a Shark barrier at the Pass in Byron Bay, next to the scene of the September 2014, fatal attack at Clarke’s Beach. Now with the 14th attack for 2015 and increasing pressure on the NSW Government to get moving with their $16 million mitigation plan the nets have been promised to be installed before summer.
This is Mark’s interview with Craig from 2014 an insight into how the nets work and how they could save lives and prevent more attacks.
Mark: Two weeks ago we spoke about the Shark Barrier, which you are the developer of, we spoke about the possibility of putting it in a surf break like the Pass in Byron Bay. This morning we heard the tragic news that swimmer Paul Wilcox was killed by a 4 metre Great White shark just 40ft from the shore at the Pass.
Craig: It’s a terrible tragedy, that is.
Mark: It’s the third fatal shark attack on Australia’s east coast in the last few months. There have also been many fatal shark attacks recently in Western Australia.
Craig: 11 in the last seven years.
Mark: It’s a worldwide problem. People don’t step into the water now on Reunion island, near Mauritius. Reunion used to be a surfing paradise, with a booming tourist industry. Ten years ago they turned a part of the island into a marine reserve, as they’ve done off of Byron Bay. Reunion experienced 22 serious, mostly fatal shark attacks in the last 2 years. Little children were watching on the beach as their father was torn apart only a few metres from shore, similar to what happened in Byron today.
The Reunion Government, as a result banned surfing. Reunion’s fantastic beaches are almost completely deserted now and tourism, which was thriving, has dropped to almost nothing. The Sunday paper last week featured a news story that shark attacks have increased threefold in the last year, and that Australia now leads the world in shark fatalities. In response to the WA attacks, the government instigated controversial drum lines and at the same time, the news reported the first trial of your invention, the Shark Barrier at Coogee Beach in WA. Shark netting has been around since the 1930’s so why hasn’t someone else come up with your concept? What is the difference between shark meshing and your barrier?
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Craig: Sometimes the simplest ideas haven’t been thought of before. The Shark Barrier is a lot different from a shark net. The Shark Barrier has got strength to handle conditions, it’s easily put together, it’s long lasting - at least ten years, there’s really no maintenance other than cleaning and marine life can never be tangled in this barrier, because it’s made out of nylon 6, a rigid plastic that doesn’t bend. It’s not flimsy, it does bend for allowing for the wave movement. A marine creature, dolphin, whale, shark, turtle seal, none of these creatures are going to be tangled in this barrier.
Mark: The nets don’t go all the way down to the ocean floor do they?
Craig: No they don’t. But they’re not really out there to protect surfers or swimmers either. They give the perception they’re out there to help but if you have a beach 30km long and you have a little net 150m long, I don’t even know why it’s out there. All it is killing this innocent marine life, really.
Mark: Doesn’t netting reduce the numbers of sharks?
Craig: It could possibly do that.
Mark: They do catch sharks.
Craig: Yes, but they also catch turtles and dugongs which is senseless in this day and age. If we can have something that protects surfers and swimmers that will not trap other marine life, then why not? It is the 21 st century after all.
Mark: It just seems hard to understand why something similar wasn’t developed from the word go.
Craig: I think I know the probable reason behind that. Netting is cheap, you throw it out of the boat, you don’t have to worry about it and it’s just out there. It’s just a cheap option. Here we have a dearer option but in the long term, over ten years, it actually works out to be the same cost as a net down the beach.
Mark: And there’s not the same maintenance, because you don’t have to pull dead marine life out of it.
Craig: That’s right you don’t have to remove any marine life. There is a cleaning cost with anything that sits in the water for that amount of time. But it’s minimal compared to the benefits of saving human and marine life.
Mark: Let’s talk about how the Shark Barrier would work in a surf break. At the moment, there’s only one you’ve constructed at Coogee Beach in WA. That’s not a surf break is it?
Craig: It’s quite a calm beach and on the roughest day the tide movement would be 700mm, 800mm. On the roughest day you would probably get a metre and half of chop. It was trialled from December through to the end of April this year for 4 months. The trial went extremely well, it didn’t pull apart, it didn’t break, it didn’t trap any marine life. The whole idea behind this barrier is for something to exist in the marine environment without harming any marine life and keep people safe and it did that extremely well and it would keep doing that for the next ten years.
The council have agreed to put it back in for another three years, another 5 years possibly without the government’s assistance. Over here we’re asking the government to fund half, but they’re not going in just yet. They had another council meeting, they agreed to put it back in. The overwhelming response was for it to be put back in even though there has never been a shark attack there.
I’ve spoken to a lot of locals who have seen Great Whites swimming around. There are sharks there, it’s one of those things. At the end of the day it gives a lot of people peace of mind to go swimming there within the Shark Barrier enclosure. I’ve talked to people that do laps outside of the barrier here, I say to them, ‘why did you do that? You’ve got the safety of the barrier.’ They just like the feel of being out in the open water, the freedom to be in the elements in nature and whatever happens, happens. If that barrier had been in place in Byron Bay and he had made the choice to swim outside of that, well, there’s nothing you can say, he made that decision.
Mark: How do you feel personally about sharks?
Craig: If I had young kids now, would I let them go swimming seventy metres out? No way. When I was younger, the thought of sharks didn’t bother me. I used to swim 200 metres out by myself off of Eden where there are sharks all the time, but now if I go swimming here away from the barrier it’s in the back of my mind. People think about it every time they go in the water now.
Mark: Imagine playing tennis and a 400 pound Bengal tiger comes out of the bushes and eats you. It wouldn’t be tolerated would it. Surfing and ocean activities are the only situation in almost all of the modern world where you can be eaten alive by an ancient predator that can weigh four or five times what a tiger weighs.
Craig: There’s only one certain way to keep safe, and that is to have a physical barrier between open water and yourself. It’s not going to break down. It’s not going to have holes in it.
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Mark: Let’s talk about the logistics of having the Shark Barrier in a high surf location.
Craig: Let’s say for instance at Cottesloe where it’s 5 metres deep, I set the barrier at 5 metres and allow an extra 2 ½ to 3 metres of extra barrier to allow for the waves and the swell. Obviously a bigger wave is going to periodically go over it, but the float is always pulling the barrier towards the surface of the water and that goes the same for Byron Bay or any other beach. You’re always going to have that king high tide, those 5 or 6-metre waves. You’re always going to have waves go over it. You can’t make something that is made just for that extreme condition that may happen once or twice a year.
The barrier will always handle conditions that are out there. It all comes down to the chain anchors that are in the ocean bottom holding it down in position, which have to be certified by an engineer. The barrier at Byron bay, I’m assuming the water there would be four or five metres so I’d make that barrier 7 ½ to 8 metres long and it will always move up with the wave come back down and so on. The barrier will lean over into the water, it’s not going to stick up into the air.
Mark: The Pass turns into Clarke’s Beach and then Main Beach to Belongil, it’s a decent stretch of coastline and the whole stretch is a couple of kilometers. What’s the maximum length one of your barriers could go?
Craig: It’s all about the chain and anchors. The barrier itself is supported by floats, I quoted a barrier in Saudi Arabia that was 1.2 kms long. You can have it continuous for 6 or 10 kilometres, you could have it around the whole of Australia, there’s no limit to how far you can go. But you’re looking at 2 or 3 million dollars to go 6 kilometres.
Mark: Let’s say the Byron council gave thumbs up for it for the Pass. What’s the timeframe for putting it up?
Craig: Once it’s all approved, two weeks to make the product then ship it over to the East Coast, putting the chains and anchors out is a two or three-day process. Once it’s in the water and secured, you can leave it in the water all year round. It can handle all conditions in the water.
Mark: How is it attached to the bottom of the ocean?
Craig: You have a chain that goes in a half semi-circle, from one part of the beach, back to the beach in a semi-circle. That chain is a 24mm Rayid chain, every 12 metres or every 27 metres is a cross chain. And on the outside of that cross chain you have an anchor on the outside and an anchor on the inside. The anchors are 75 kilo SeaRay anchors with a holding power that is huge.
On a barrier for the Pass in Byron Bay, you would have 27 anchors. The anchors are buried in the sand. These SeaRay anchors when they get pulled on, they bury further into the sand. So if you were to set it out ten metres on the sand, give it a week and it would probably be under the sand because the waves are always pulling on it. The barrier itself is attached to the chain by a strengthened nylon loop which goes either through the chain, under the chain, through the barrier.
At the end of each barrier is a ring connector. The loop will be attached to the ring connector through the chain and is done every 300mm. If it was to go into a beach such as at Byron Bay or anywhere there was rough surface conditions, there’s a 6 mm plasma rope that can be threaded through the barrier from the top to the bottom and it has a breakage strain of 3 ½ tons. That rope can be threaded every 300mm, 600mm, 900mm. The forces that could break this barrier would have to be phenomenal, ocean conditions by themselves would not do it. Mark: A great white shark couldn’t bite a hole in it?
Craig: A shark could go up and bite it, but to bite it and make a hole through it, not likely. It's plastic so it stretches, it doesn’t break. I could bend this barrier completely in half. For a shark to actually break it, highly unlikely. If there was a hole in it for any reason repairs are easy, you would just pull out one panel and replace it.
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