By Sarah Han De Beaux
Image: Vanessa Torres Macho Photography
Bondi Beach is arguably one of Australia’s most iconic beaches. The ancient Aboriginal rock carvings in North Bondi show an abundance of marine life, including sharks, that the Indigenous community cared for over thousands of years. Today people like Jason Eggledon, an aerial photographer who runs a popular instagram account: DroneSharkApp, has made the oceans more accessible to the public by posting videos daily of the sharks, rays, seals and whales he spots. He has even given names to these various marine locals, and increasingly people have begun affectionately referring to “Norman the Greynurse Shark”, along with “Alex the Seal” and “Raymond the Stingray”.
A community of divers have been gathering evidence of the resident grey nurse shark (Carcharias taurus) population in Bondi and we can now prove that a significant number aggregate in Bondi and return year on year. We collected a database of over 40 unique individuals with sightings of up to 11 sharks on a single day.
Image: Duncan Heuer
Why are grey nurse sharks endangered?
The GNS population was actively decimated in the 1960-1980’s due to their fierce appearance and the perception that they were “man-eating.”
In Australia there are two separate and distinct populations: an east coast and a west coast population. The east population is listed as Critically Endangered in both federal and NSW state governments, which means they should receive the greatest level of protection in Australia.
During a diver survey commissioned by DPI in 2001, only 207 individual sharks were counted along the east coast. Later estimates in 2013 suggest that about 1500 individuals are left in the population. Contrast that number with the popular target of at least 5000 individuals, a globally recognised threshold for a species to survive extinction.
GNS are one of the slowest breeding sharks we know about. They are ovoviviparous, meaning the young hatch inside the womb, with the young eating each other until birth, when only two pups will be born (one per uterus). Females become sexually active from between 5-8 years old and only breed once every 2 years after that making recovery a slow process.
Current threats facing the population?
The deployment of shark nets are one of the many pressures facing GNS, which also include accidental fishing and documented damage the hooks cause internally to these sharks. While the strength of the fishing lobbies makes it very difficult to halt fishing activities in areas where we find GNS, the one thing that the public could and should get behind is the removal of the shark nets.
According to a report by the Fisheries Scientific Committee "Shark meshing on Sydney beaches began in 1937 to reduce the numbers of sharks and thereby reduce the risk of shark attacks." These nets were specifically designed to entangle sharks, but also entangle other marine life. Recently, Waverley council along with a number of other councils in NSW has voted to object to the nets but the issue remains a state decision and hence the importance of our campaign to educate the public on the ineffectiveness of this program.
As most readers here would know, the nets do not create a total barrier between swimmers and sharks. They are about 150-170 metres long, 6 metres tall and placed below the surface suspended between 2 and 8 metres from the sea floor. Sharks can swim under, around and over them. Bondi has a width of 800m so the net covers less than a quarter of that distance.
Non-lethal modern alternatives are being used in Western Australia and overseas, so it is surprising and alarming that the NSW state government seems adamant to hold on to these outdated practices.
Image: Sarah Han DeBeaux
What are the campaign objectives?
A campaign has begun in Bondi to raise awareness, increase protection and to gain momentum to remove the lethal shark nets that have killed a number of them in recent years. Tagged GNS have been recorded migrating over 800 km between aggregation sites and have been recorded returning to the same sites in consecutive years so it is vital to get these Bondi sites recognised officially to help protect and then not put nets designed to entangle right next to them.
Register Bondi as a new official GNS aggregation site critical for their recovery. Based on our evidence we have more than satisfied the NSW (Otway) definition of what is required to determine an area as an aggregation site.
Install signage and DPI’s GNS Code of Conduct on the walkways near to the entrances to the dive sites to educate the public about how to behave around them
Seek to remove or replace the lethal shark nets of Bond and ask that the state government considers non-lethal alternatives (e.g. drones).
How you can help
We need strong community support to get the nets replaced and to get the site listed as an aggregation area. If you have any GNS photos from Bondi over the last ten years, please upload them to www.spotashark.com. A petition was launched on change.org and during the first week it attracted over 8000 supporters. Please support our campaign, share it with your networks and let us know if you have any high profile contacts who may be willing to back this. All details on our website: www.savingnorman.com.au via this QR code.