In March this year, Sarah Waries and Monwabisi Sikweyiya of the Shark Spotters travelled to Australia to explore the feasibility of expanding the non-lethal shark control programme across the Indian Ocean. They were invited by Sea Shepherd and No Shark Cull and visited three states in Australia.
The Shark Spotter programme was developed more than a decade ago in False Bay, South Africa, and improves beach safety by means of innovative and responsible solutions that balance the needs of people with the conservation of sharks. Like South Africa, Australia has a prominent population of white sharks that share coastal waters with ocean users. Australia has implemented culling programmes in the past and still has shark nets and drum lines in place in Queensland.
Waries and Sikweyiya visited 52 sites across the states of Western Australia, New South Wales and Queensland, including well-known surf spots at Margaret River, Byron Bay and Sydney. They judged the feasibility of a site on factors such as elevation, water clarity and water-user activity and found that 17 had potential for the spotting programme.
The Shark Spotter team also engaged the Australian public. They attended stakeholder engagement meetings and hosted four community forums where they spoke to more than 250 people about their sustainable approach to preventing shark bites in South Africa. Their visit also attracted a lot of attention from print and broadcast media in Australia and elsewhere.
Waries views the visit as very positive for the Shark Spotters, but is sceptical that the programme will be expanded to Australia. ‘There appear to be strong political agendas around the implementation of shark bite mitigation strategies in Australia,’ she said. ‘For this reason it does not appear that a spotting programme endorsed by the government will be implemented there any time soon.’ However, Sea Shepherd and No Shark Cull have indicated that they will experiment with the programme at a small, community-based level in the hope of convincing the government to come on board at a later stage.
The Shark Spotters programme in Cape Town, South Africa, improves beach safety through both shark warnings and emergency assistance in the event of a shark incident. The programme contributes to research on shark ecology and behaviour, raises public awareness about shark-related issues, and provides employment opportunities and skills development for spotters.