How we volunteer to act around Grey Nurse Sharks
In the global village, other people look at our marine conservation in Australia much as we do the conservation of monkeys in Africa. But how are we behaving?
Many people watched the prime time BBC nature special about the Rift Valley on Sunday night (15 May 2010). I was astonished to see the film clips of a new species of monkey, the Highland Mangabey (Lophocebus kipunji). The best estimate of their population? A thousand individuals. There’s a suite of conservation programmes already underway. (You can read more about the monkey and the Rift Valley forest and community where it lives.)
But I’m upset knowing that at the same time, a rare animal with a population of less than a thousand here in Australia is actually being given LESS official protection, even as we know better. At the end of April, just as we were earning some praise overseas for our marine conservation, the newly elected NSW government pulled back on these new protection measures. The previous government passed these in February to protect Grey Nurse Sharks (Carcharias taurus).
On our east coast, the remaining Grey Nurse Sharks come together in aggregations at ten critical sites. (One of them is around Julian Rocks, Byron Bay, as pictured.) Fishing with live bait and hooks right over these aggregations makes it very likely that sharks will get caught. As they protected, they will be released, but they will take away with them wounds, fishing hooks and even gaff hooks. These avoidable injuries don’t heal well, make them ill and sometimes kills them.
Remember that in 1984, the Grey Nurse were the first sharks in the world to be declared protected. Why were they in trouble? In the 1950-60s, the sharks were thought to be “man hunters” so people killed them in great numbers wherever they found them. This was very easy at aggregation sites. But these sharks do not attack people at all. The stories about them were wrong. The extermination drive was all a mistake. (Here's more about this history.)
The NSW government says there will now be another new three month review of the entire issue, considering yet again what should be fishing regulations at these critical sites.
Also coming up in July/August 2011 is the Grey Nurse Shark Watch run by the highly acclaimed Reef Watch. Divers, fishers and anyone else who sees a shark can report their sighting. Reef Watch is also looking for Site Custodians, to help with more detailed surveys and photography at specific locations.
So here is the golden opportunity to help collect up to date knowledge about these sharks and their habitats. Diving clubs and fishing groups take special notice! Surely any recreational fishing group worth their salt would help out.
Meanwhile, knowing what we already know, we can be savvy fishers and simply choose NOT to use the riskier fishing methods that include bait fishing and jigging. After all, what is the skill or pride in catching the wrong marine animal and doing such damage to a rare species? We know that the sharks scavenge near the seabed for food. Couldn’t we voluntarily act in ways that help?
As a society, we must keep upgrading our idea of what, in the 21st century, is “sporting” and what isn’t. The fishers among us would surely be a step ahead of regulations, make a stand and avoid fishing at aggregation sites. They would be taking the lead in conserving sharks and other marine wildlife. Wouldn't they?
EXTRA NOTE: On land, here's something you can do: a new website about diving with sharks around the world has a post from Byron Bay's Sundive Shop with a summary of political action.
Read the NSW discussion paper. Make an online SUBMISSION. The deadline is Friday 26 August 2011.