Shark nets: Ballina surfers back in water after confidence-boosting six-month trial

Ballina surfers back after net trial Cooper Allen, 17 at the time of shark bite last September, is back in the surf. Photo: Supplied

Wounds on Cooper Allen’s leg after being bitten by a shark at Lighthouse Beach in Ballina in September. Photo: Channel 7 via Twitter

A shark is caught and tagged by DPI staff. Photo: DPI

A shark is caught and tagged by DPI staff. Photo: DPI

TweetFacebookFrom above and belowEfforts to reassure the public are multi-pronged. During the NSW summer school holidays alone, helicopters clocked up about 93,000 km between Eden in the state’s south and Tweed Heads.

The crews spotted 525 potentially dangerous sharks, with about a third of them swimming near bathing areas, prompting 78 water evacuations, DPI said.

Drone surveillance was also stepped up in the north and other regions such as Redhead, near Lake Macquarie, and Kiama. These devices picked up 46 shark sightings – more than half at Redhead alone – prompting eight evacuations but also a successful rescue of two swimmers swept out to sea at Kiama.

However, the value of the shark nets remains a sore spot with scientists stating privately that it is impossible to know whether their presence made any significant reduction in shark-bite risk – other than to kill some of the animals they caught.

A shark is caught and tagged by DPI staff. Photo: DPI

So far the nets near Ballina have caught six so-called target sharks – whites, bulls or tigers – three of which were released alive after tagging. Another nine “potentially dangerous” sharks were caught, with only one surviving.

Other by-catch remains an issue, with 172 non-target animals including dolphins snarled in the nets, with 71 dying before crews arrived to release them during their once-daily visits.

Smart drumlines, which hone in only on target sharks, are viewed as relatively successful, catching 17 sharks with all but one released alive. Two grey nurse sharks were also caught and survived, DPI said.

For Cooper Allen, though, it’s a case of “what happens, happens”, and he just surfs when the waves are good, net or not.

Now fully recovered physically – save for a numb region around his thigh – the damage is mostly mental.

“I’m just always going to be on edge,” he says, adding he tries to keep his legs “in the air” when out on the board. “You’re never going to get it out of your head.”

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