Proposed plans for an eco-friendly shark barrier to be implemented at Ballina have been scrapped, leaving the town of three shark incidents at risk.
Ballina’s Lighthouse Beach, situated on the far north coast of New South Wales, is a popular site for both local surfers and tourists, creating concerns for the safety of people in the water.
Seven shark attacks have ocurred in northern NSW and southern Queensland since 2014. Three of these have been in Ballina.
The manufacturer Eco Shark Barrier Pty Ltd was unable to install the barrier, after three unsuccessful attempts and protests from surfers.
Following this, the Department of Primary Industries announced this August that installation of the shark barrier would be ceased.
"Eco Shark Barrier Pty Ltd has decided to discontinue the trial at Lighthouse Beach, Ballina citing significant installation and maintenance issues," DPI stated in an update to their barrier trials webpage.
These issues included large swells and sand movement altering water depth, preventing divers from being able to install the barrier.
Eco Shark Barrier Pty Ltd refused to comment on the decision.
The shark barrier was supposed to be installed from mid-July and was expected to cost up to $500,000, according to The Australian.
Now, Lighthouse Beach will rely on the protection of a patrol helicopter, the Surf Life Saving Club, shark tagging and warning systems on the headlands.
However, Ballina Mayor David Wright said that the DPI is looking at further measures to protect Ballina’s beaches.
This includes a drone called the Little Ripper that can spot sharks and also drop inflatable devices into the water and other lifesaving materials.
Cr Wright said that he 'always knew it was going to be difficult' to install the shark barrier, and had been in contact with the manufacturer since last October.
"It's a shame," Cr Wright said. "There are certainly a lot of people that are disappointed."
However, Cr Wright stressed that the attempted installation of the shark barrier at Lighthouse Beach was only a trial, and that the only person affected financially by the trial was the manufacturer.
Cr Wright said that his biggest concern was for the tourists and young people in Ballina’s waters, and that an awareness program was crucial to prevent any further shark-related incidents.
"Everything that I'm trying to do is for the tourists and the nippers."
Striking a balance between swimmer and shark safety
Daniel Bucher, a senior marine biology and fisheries lecturer at Southern Cross University, agrees that observation and warning systems are the most effective measure to reduce shark attacks.
Dr Bucher said he is happy to see the shark barrier proposal discontinued.
"I always thought it was a waste of money because the people most at risk of shark injury are surfers and the barrier was never going to protect them," Dr Bucher said.
Dr Bucher said that the safest measure for both surfers and the sharks is the use of personal shark repellent devices.
However, Dr Bucher said that sharks play an important role in the ecosystem and must be protected too.
"Why should we kill sharks so people can feel safer going surfing when the risk is small and there are other ways to make it even smaller?"
For more information on shark management programs visit the Department of Primary Industries.