Sharks Kill Surfer, Reigniting Net Debate in Australia

Stephanie Peatling in Sydney
for National Geographic News
January 28, 2005

Last month two great white sharks killed an 18-year-old surfer several hundred yards from a crowded beach near Adelaide, in South Australia.

The attack has served to spotlight the ongoing debate down under over the steps states take to safeguard beachgoers in Australia, which is now in the midst of its summer season.

Popular swimming beaches along the length of the Queensland and New South Wales coastlines, for example, are netted to prevent sharks from coming too close to shore—and to give people peace of mind when they step into the water.

Environmental groups oppose the nets, saying they are potentially dangerous to marine life and prevent the sharks' free movement. The state governments maintain that human life is more important.

Meanwhile, bathers taking a dip in the states of South Australia, Western Australia, and Victoria are not offered any such protection.

In the past 40 years there has only been one fatal shark attack at the 134 beaches protected by shark nets. Yet there have been 15 deaths in South Australia, 12 in Western Australia, and 7 in Victoria—all states that lack shark nets along their beaches.

These antinet state governments continue to rule out netting, citing the damage they can cause to marine life.

The Western Australian Fisheries Minister, Kim Chance, is not convinced about the safety that nets offer to humans.

"The general belief now is that nets not only prevent protection, they may attract sharks, because fish get caught in the nets, and sharks come in to eat them," Chance said.

Wil Zacharin, executive director of fisheries of the Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Resources, said introducing netting is "not feasible" and that "there is more danger driving to the beach than on the beach."

Net Cost

The netting debate reappeared the week before Christmas, when 18-year-old Nick Peterson was killed by two great white sharks. He was surfing off the coast known as the Great Australian Bight near Adelaide, South Australia.

Continued on Next Page >>


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