L. Gibbs, L. Fetterplace, M. Rees and Q. Hanich. Effects and effectiveness of lethal shark hazard management:The Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program, NSW, Australia. People and Nature. (2019); 00:1-15.
- ‘Shark attack’ presents a considerable social-environmental challenge. Each year a small number of people are injured or killed by shark bite. Concurrently, sharks and other marine life are subject to unprecedented anthropogenic pressures.
- Shark hazard management varies globally, but lethal strategies are common, with negative consequences for species and environments. Of particular concern are the effects for threatened species.
- Lethal strategies have recently come under criticism, based on the negative effects for marine life, effectiveness for human safety and inconsistency with contemporary values. Moves to improve both safety and conservation can be hindered by polarized debate.
- We present a case study of the world’s longest-running lethal shark hazard management program, the Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program, New South Wales, Australia. We take an interdisciplinary approach to bring into conversation factors that contribute to safety and conservation outcomes. To date, most research focuses on one or other of these areas. We seek to synthesize the factors that are not previously considered in relation to each other.
- Our aims were to: (a) identify and critique the diverse factors that determine the outcomes of the program; (b) assess the negative effects of the program for sharks and other marine life; and (c) assess the effectiveness of the program for reducing threat of shark interactions.
- We find that: (a) multiple social and environmental factors contribute to program outcomes; (b) total shark numbers and populations of key target species – white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) and bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) – have declined over the program’s 80 years, as have a number of non-target species; (c) incidence of shark bite has declined since the program’s introduction, but two external points warrant attention.
- First, key factors influencing the shark bite incidence are frequently overlooked, namely changing cultures of beach- and ocean-use, advances in beach patrol, and emergency and medical response. Second, the proportion of bites leading to fatality has decreased significantly in recent decades.
- Beach patrol and emergency response contribute to human safety and well-being without the negative consequences of lethal strategies. As such, they offer a focus for future shark hazard management and research.