The NSW Premier can’t cop a break, and neither can the animals that live within his state, writes Jordan Sosnowski.
It seems the NSW Premier is determined to do all he can to harm animals – on land and in the ocean.
NSW Minister Mike Baird was in Ballina recently to roll out the first of his controversial shark nets. Four more will be installed by the end of the year, even though thousands of people are protesting against them.
By introducing the nets, the NSW government ignores the advice of its chief shark scientist who has said they could kill up to 20 dolphins within weeks.
Despite assurances he is putting “human life first”, the controversial shark net trial will not protect swimmers from sharks. What we know for sure is they will kill thousands of non-targeted animals, including dolphins, whales, turtles and rays.
The nets could all but decimate the resident pod of 32 dolphins who live in the Byron/Ballina area, as the net set to be installed at Lighthouse Beach cuts right through the dolphins’ core habitat.
The Federal government would know this fact if due process had been followed and an environmental impact assessment was carried out. Instead, the shark nets have been fast-tracked through parliament with all the speed of a knee-jerk reaction.
When locals protested, Baird defending his decision saying, “[What] we want to determine in the first six months is what has been the impact, what have we seen, what have we learnt and then come back to the community.”
But putting the nets in and then looking at the impact to marine life is like checking on the welfare of cows in the steak aisle of the supermarket – it’s a tad too late.
Not surprisingly, a coalition of animal welfare groups has come out against the nets, saying they do not offer safety to communities and further threaten marine life. More than eight organisations, including Humane Society International, Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd, Fin Free Sydney and my own organisation Australia for Dolphins will join to protest at Manly Beach (in Baird’s electorate), this Sunday.
Faced with growing public opposition, the government has given assurances that the nets will be fitted with pingers to deter marine life. However there is no evidence these acoustic alarms work to detract dolphins and whales.
In fact, nets with pingers installed in Queensland have caught more than 76 dolphins and most recently entangled a humpback whale calf. Vulnerable and near threatened species such as snubfin dolphins and Australian humpback dolphins have also fallen prey.
Even though these numbers sound small, the populations are so fragile that every animal counts. The loss of a few dolphins can end up having a serious impact.
To give a clearer picture, shark nets on NSW beaches have already killed more than 15,000 animals since they were first installed.
Not only will the shark nets catch a huge number of non-targeted species, but it’s likely they won’t even work to protect swimmers. Shark nets do not create an enclosed area within which beach goers are protected from sharks. They are only 150 metres long, so sharks can simply swim over, under, or around the nets, and frequently do.
In 2015, the NSW government commissioned an independent review of emerging technologies for “bather protection”. The authors of the report clearly state the best approach is a shark watch program – not the mesh nets which the government has chosen.
Vic Peddemors, top shark scientist from the NSW Department of Primary Industries, has come out strongly against the nets. He put it bluntly: “Stop asking the government, stop asking council, stop asking everyone else, to look after your own safety, look after it yourself”.
Being attacked by a shark is of course, a very scary thought. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that the chances of an attack are slim. In NSW, you are far more likely to die on the roads (353 in 2016 so far) than from a shark attack (3 people on average in the whole of Australia).
The Byron Shire Council is taking matters into its own hands, and at its own expense, funding a Shark Spotters program. The Mayor has refused the nets saying that the risks posed by sharks would not justify the damage done to the marine ecosystem.
Thanks to pollution, over-fishing and climate change, our precious marine life already has enough to deal with.
With this latest enactment, Baird’s approval ratings are going to sink even lower. Put simply, the Premier’s latest decision is yet another absolute shocker.
Donate To New Matilda
New Matilda is a small, independent media outlet. We survive through reader contributions, and never losing a lawsuit. If you got something from this article, giving something back helps us to continue speaking truth to power. Every little bit counts.