Letter to the editor: SMART drumline push

O'Connor MP Rick Wilson has called on the state government to include Esperance in SMART drumline trials.
O'Connor MP Rick Wilson has called on the state government to include Esperance in SMART drumline trials.

TWO weeks ago, the WA Government finally came to its senses when it executed a monumental backflip and announced plans to trial non-lethal SMART drumlines at Gracetown in the state’s south-west.

While I welcome this latest turnaround, I remain extremely disappointed that State Minister for Fisheries Dave Kelly has decided not to include Esperance in this 12-month trial - despite being fully aware of the shark threat facing the local community.

With the ‘countdown to October’ just a few weeks away and Esperance gearing-up for a busy tourist season, why is the state government not supporting the community’s call for SMART drumlines to be implemented along its coast?

We KNOW that SMART drumlines are highly effective - the NSW SMART Drumline program has proven so.

In February this year, the Government of NSW announced results of trials from Coffs Harbour to Sawtell and Forster-Tuncurry, on the mid-north coast.

From August to December 2017 64 sharks were caught, tagged and released at Forster-Tuncurry and an additional 15 at Coffs Harbour.

As authorities were able to track these sharks, they found that once tagged, the sharks generally stayed in deeper offshore waters for up to a month.

In addition, sharks caught on SMART drumlines had a far greater chance of survival than those caught in nets.

In the NSW trial, all but one shark caught was released alive (97 per cent) as opposed to a 47 per cent survival rate in nets (128 animals were found alive while 147 did not survive).

So what are the costs?

Estimates indicate that the operation and maintenance of a single SMART drumline could range from $24,380 to $33,680 for a six-month period (plus a $5,000 purchase cost).

This suggests that a six-month SMART drumline program rolled-out across the Perth Metro and the South West would cost in the region of $5-7 million for 176 drumlines.

These 176 drumlines would cover approximately 260km of coastline.

This is very significant, as more than 80 per cent of the state’s population lives within 30 kilometres of the coast in these two regions.

Costs would be further reduced if the state government accepted the Government of NSW’s offer to use five of its drumlines free of charge.

So by choosing to ignore Esperance, what kind of message is the state government sending out to the many hundreds who have already signed my Esperance SMART drumlines petition?  

What do parents tell their kids who are looking forward to spending summer holidays surfing or swimming in the ocean?  

And what do tourism and holiday providers tell the tens of thousands of visitors expected to visit Esperance over the coming months?

That the technology to protect you from shark attacks is available, but the government has decided not to implement it?  

That really doesn’t make the beaches of WA tourist-friendly, now does it?

I am fully aware many people believe once you’ve stepped foot into the ocean you’ve ventured into the shark’s domain and if you are attacked, then that’s your fault.

Isn’t that argument a little too simplistic?

People have been captivated by the ocean since the dawn of time and that’s not going to change anytime soon.

Isn’t it better to acknowledge the shark threat and use technology to protect people, who at the end of the day, just want to surf, swim or paddle in the ocean?

Humans may not LIVE in the ocean, but they certainly have the RIGHT to use it for harmless recreational pursuits.