Australia

Shark deterrent subsidised, but will surfers use it?

A Flinders University study has shown the new shark deterrent being subsidised by the state government reduces the risk of a shark interaction by up to 60 per cent.

Fisheries minister Dave Kelly announced the inclusion of the new surfer specific device to the state governments personal shark deterrent subsidy on May 23.

Ocean Guardians FREEDOM+ Surf device was tested off the Neptune Islands in South Australia – a known white shark aggregation point and a major fur-seal pupping location.

The research resulted in 297 successful trials, in which 44 different white sharks interacted with bait and undertook 1,413 passes of the test board.

When the device was activated, white sharks were observed to visibly react at an average distance of 1.7 metres from the device.

The device reduced the percentage of bait taken from 96 per cent for the control board to 40 per cent when the device was active.

Other deterrents tested included Rpela, SharkBanz bracelet, SharkBanz surf leash, and Chillax Wax.

Of the five products tested, only FREEDOM+ Surf produced a statistically significant reduction in the level of interactions with the bait/board compared to the control.

Ocean Guardian chief executive officer Lindsay Lyon said the results of the latest testing were no surprise.

“The Shark Shield Technology efficacy has been scientifically proven and independently tested time and time again in multiple locations around the world,” she said.

“No safety product, whether its a seat belt, bike helmet or shark deterrent can reduce a 100 per cent of risk.

“Mandated seat belts save lives and wearing a properly adjusted seat belt reduces the risk of fatal or serious injury by up to 50 per cent. This recent research shows that the Surf+ significantly reduces the risk of a shark encounter for surfers in an enticed baited scenario by up to 60 per cent. In the test environment, youre effectively surfing on top of a dead whale.”

The state government subsidy will come into effect on May 25.

Western Australians will be able to access a $200 rebate through retailers who sell the device and are registered with the department.

Fisheries minister Dave Kelly said research showed even in extreme circumstances – chummed and baited waters – the FREEDOM+ Surf reduced the risk of a shark interaction with a great white shark by at least 60 per cent.

“The departments scientists advise me that in more normal conditions, the device may produce an even higher level of deterrence,” he said.

“Im sure that with the addition of this new device, we will see even more people purchase a device and significantly reduce their chance of a shark interaction.”

Besides the rebate, the governments shark mitigation strategy includes more than $7 million in funding for Surf Life Saving WA beach, helicopter and drone patrols and funding Beach Emergency Number signs.

However, Vasse MLA and shadow minister for tourism, Libby Mettam, said the state government adding a subsidy to FREEDOM+ Surf , which had been on the market for a year, was too little, too late.

“Offering a subsidy on a commercial device does not address the public safety concerns and it will do nothing to address tourism impacts of shark activity in WA,” she said.

“Minister Kelly is still cherry picking what he thinks will be cheap options rather than putting together a comprehensive strategy.

“We are no closer to seeing event disruption avoided in WA and no closer to preventing attacks on people using our oceans.”

Earlier in the week, Mr Kelly rejected an offer of five free SMART drumlines from the New South Wales government.

Ms Mettam, an advocate for the SMART drumline shark mitigation strategy, said she was dismayed by the refusal.

For those closest to the issue, the states water users, the news of the latest subsidy was welcomed.

Julie and Leon Brouwer, parents of shark attack victim Laeticia Brouwer, said they supported the latest independent study to validate technology aimed at personal safety in the surf.

“This along with a range of other strategies such as increased surveillance and awareness raising should all be part of the management solution,” they said.

“There are a range of other management options that the surfing community would also like to see taken up by government, and are being discussed further but will take time to progress.

“However in the short term, personal shark deterrents are available now, and along with the backing of a scientifically valid report, and the government subsidy – as surfers we can do our bit to prevent further attacks.”

Two-time World Surf Champion Tom Carroll, who was involved in the design of the product, said it was great news for ocean lovers.

“With this product, surfers can keep themselves protected without the need for harming sharks and other marine life. Its a win-win,” he said.

The FREEDOM+ Surf device is billed as having no impact on performance and retails at $599.

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Margaret River Mail

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