Nick Carroll: We Know About the Sharks, What About the People?

9 Oct 2019 11 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

COASTALWATCH | NICK CARROLL

A UTS research project aims to find out how people — not sharks — on the North Coast have changed their behaviour since 2015’s nightmare.

By now it’s pretty well known what the NSW Government has been doing about sharks, since that dreadful period off the far North Coast four years ago.

Smart drum lines, smart buoy detection, meshing trials, alert apps, and a couple of possibly slightly ill-advised trials with shark-proof enclosures that tended to wash away too quickly to be of any use to anyone.

Hundreds of sharks — whites, bulls and tigers, but mostly whites — have been tagged, dead whales have been disposed of sensibly (ie. not left to rot in the sand dunes), and most importantly, the rate of lethal attacks has declined.

But how much of that decline has been down to the drum lines etc, and how much to human behaviour?

There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence of surfers changing their habits in the wake of those attacks. But nobody’s taken a broader look at the responses of human coast-dwellers.

Well that’s about to change. Researchers from the University of Technology (Sydney) are preparing for a series of public workshops in Ballina and Byron Bay next week, aimed at figuring out just how, and how much, beachgoers are reducing their risk of encountering a shark.

Head researcher Nick McClean says they want to get beyond normal community attitudes toward sharks and try to understand more about how people’s water lives have changed in response to the risks.

"For example, do people swim in different places or at different times than previously, or use technology to keep themselves safe?” Nick says in the workshop PR. “Have people changed their behaviour because of their peers, through learning from communication efforts by the government, or for other reasons? And if people haven’t changed their behaviour, is it because they don’t feel the risk applies to them, or for other reasons? These are the sort of questions we’ll be exploring in the workshops.” 

The workshops are open to anyone who spends time at the beach. You don’t need any specialist knowledge about sharks or beach safety to be involved.

But we reckon if you’re a surfer from the area, you might want to make your voice heard.

Workshops will be held at:
Ballina Lighthouse/Lismore Surf Club next Tuesday, October 15 at 6pm
Byron Bay Surf Club next Wednesday, October 16 at 6pm

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