Mayor calls for end of shark nets at Sydney’s Bondi beach

·4 min read

Shark nets wouldn’t be installed at Sydney’s Bondi beach this summer if the local mayor had her way.

Animal welfare campaigners have long argued nets are not effective and kill too many other marine animals – and more politicians are joining the movement.

Waverley council’s mayor, Paula Masselos, said on Thursday that shark nets should be removed from her local government area including at Bondi beach.

The council has advised the state government – which is responsible for the netting program – that it wants alternatives that increase safety for water users without harming marine life.

Related: Calls grow to remove Queensland’s ‘outdated’ shark nets after another whale gets entangled

Masselos said there was “no way shark nets can be considered to be particularly effective” because each one was only 150 metres long, six metres high and set at a depth of 10 metres – for a part of the year.

“They don’t even cover the whole beach,” Masselos told Guardian Australia.

“They’re not designed to be a barrier between swimmers and sharks, they’re there to disrupt the swimming pattern of the shark. People say it’s proven they are effective in stopping shark attacks. I don’t think they are. There are a whole other set of strategies we could have in place to mitigate shark attacks.”

Masselos said there had only been one incident on Bondi beach, in February 2009, when a non-fatal attack occurred while the nets were in place.

At the same time, she said, the amount of marine life caught in the nets each year was “terrible”.

Nets are installed at 51 beaches from Newcastle to Wollongong where the majority of people in NSW swim and surf. The program was introduced in 1937.

According to a recent DPI report on shark net performance, 376 marine animals were tangled in NSW nets in 2021-22. That number included 51 “target sharks” and 325 “non-target animals”.

The target sharks included 28 white sharks, 12 bull sharks and 11 tiger sharks. The other marine life caught by the nets included 149 non-target sharks such grey nurse sharks and hammerheads, 130 rays, 40 turtles, one dolphin and one humpback whale.

Of all the animals caught in nets, just over a third – 142 – were released alive.

“They’re shocking numbers,” Masselos said. “The animals that are caught there will struggle. They will drown. It’s just awful.”

Masselos’s comments echo those of other political figures including the Central Coast MP Adam Crouch who has been campaigning for the state government to trial the removal of shark nets in his electorate.

“I welcome the comments [by Masselos],” Crouch said on Thursday. “The shark nets provide a false sense of security and, quite frankly, most people don’t know where the nets are on the Central Coast. There’s no signage.

“This is something all our regions need to look at, but the community needs to be part of the journey.”

Waverley council voted a year ago to pass a resolution making its position clear and Masselos said the council had restated its view during a recent review conducted by the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) which owns and manages the nets.

The mayor said the council would like a combination of smart drum lines, drones and sonar listening buoys to be deployed.

Related: Two whale rescues in one day prompt fresh call for removal of shark nets in Queensland

Smart drum lines work by sending a signal to authorities when marine life is caught, allowing potentially harmful sharks to be tagged before being released. When these sharks later come within range of sonar listening buoys, a warning can be issued and the situation monitored using drones.

NSW has so far invested $86m in smart drum lines and Waverley council voted this week to investigate setting up a shark spotting drone program for its lifeguards.

“The fact is we’re seeing more sharks on the beach side of the nets so obviously it’s not working, and we’re seeing more people in the water,” Messelos said. “So let’s be smart about using modern technology to protect both our people and the environment.”