Urgent action needed to stop sharks killing tourism
TOURISM bosses want aerial shark spotters, netted swimming spots, SMART drum lines and shark deterrent devices trialled across the Whitsundays to stop fear of attack killing off Queensland's premier playground.
In a rare move, the industry has issued a joint statement outlining its shark control wishlist as it begs politicians to put aside political point scoring for solutions to protect visitors and north Queenslander's livelihoods.
Tourism operators want a comprehensive investigation into the reasons behind the sudden surge in shark attacks, arguing people cannot be protected while no one can explain the changes in shark behaviour at popular tourism spots.
The call comes amid an escalating row between the Palaszczuk and Morrison Governments over a court ruling prohibiting the use of drum lines across the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and last week's attack on two British backpackers near Hook Island, off Airlie Beach - the fifth Whitsundays attack in a year.
The region has never had permanent drum lines, but operators fear the political slanging match over their use could be scaring off travellers.
"We urge all parties in their discussion to determine the way forward without unintended further damage to the travelling public's perception about the exposure to risk when visiting the Great Barrier Reef," the letter says.
"Any unnecessarily alarming publicity has the potential to further damage a perception-driven tourism industry."
The industry has called for:
• Trials of aerial survillance by aircraft or drone that would warn swimmers below and contribute to scientific studies;
• Netted swimming spots, also called barriers, at islands or other popular areas, like at North Stradbroke Island's Amity Point;
• Trails of deterrent devices attached to boats and swimmers that emit frequencies to scare off sharks;
• Greater research of shark behaviour across the Great Barrier Reef;
• And discussions around how SMART drum lines could be used safely.
They also call for the temporary reinstallation of drum lines where they have been removed while the State Government works towards new shark control measures - a move the State says is not possible.
Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind - who jointly signed the statement with Tourism Whitsundays and Tourism Tropical North Queensland chiefs Natassia Wheeler and Mark Olsen - told The Courier-Mail it was time for experts to weigh in over politicians.
"We should have an orderly review of the best way to manage sharks ... because we understand very little about why this spate of attacks have occured.
"We have no coherent explanation.
"We understand so little about the life of sharks and we know so little about the different species that are involved in these attacks.
"We just do not know what's going on.
"We really want state and federal governments to work together on this to find a sensible solution.
"This is not a good topic to have a political fight over."
But even as the call went out, the political salvos continued.
Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Mark Furner attacked Deputy Opposition Leader Tim Mander for making "irresponsible comments" and Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington accused Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk of starting "fake fights with Canberra".
The Federal Government's special envoy on the Great Barrier Reef, Warren Entsch, called on Mr Furner to "climb out of his cave" and "start walking upright instead of on his knuckles".
Mr Entsch said Mr Furner needed to put drum lines back in and embrace new technology like catch, tag, relocate and release programs that are being trialled in other states.
"Let's get out of the caveman period. The technology they've been using in Queensland goes back to the 1940s and 50s for goodness sake," he said.
"Put (SMART drum lines) back in, stop the bloody fear campaign and let's move into the 21st century."
He said changing federal legislation to allow lethal drum lines, as advocated by the Palaszczuk Government, was not the answer.
But Mr Furner said two independent reports had found that SMART drum lines wouldn't work in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
"The Palaszczuk Government has committed $1 million per year to investigating and trialling non-lethal methods of shark control," he said.
"That will consider a range of options, including SMART drum lines, barriers and personal shark repellent devices.
"Let me be clear, however, that we will not support alternative technologies that don't work or provide a sense of false protection. We will not implement something that the science tells us won't work."
Tourism Minister Kate Jones commited to investigating aerial surveillance.
"The initial advice I have is that it's a very expensive exercise but both Mark Furner and I have undertaken that we would have a look at that to see how it could possibly work," she said.