Shark barriers and social media ranting

In my 5 years of running an online media publisher, I can tell you there are 2 types of stories that get more clicks than any others.

The first is prison escapes.

The second is shark attacks or shark sitings. 

The City of Mandurah have said they're inviting the community to have their say on the proposed Falcon Bay beach enclosure that aims to keep sharks out of a designated area for swimmers. 

Now of course, the community can technically have their say on EVERY issue before the council. But every now and then a super contentious matter comes before council's desk, and it doesn't matter what decision they make, a lot of people are going to be very angry. 

This is one of those matters. 

On one hand, you have the fact that sharks kill people, and people like to swim at the beach. If council doesn't install a shark barrier and there's another attack, they look like they had the chance to do something and didn't. 

On the other hand, you have a lot of very vocal locals who like saying things like "sharks live in the ocean" and other clever one liners that they assume puts the matter to rest. They claim it's a waste of money and their opinion has as much weight as anyone's. 

One of the main points people against the barrier are making is that sharks live in the ocean so we enter at our own risk. But I honestly don't follow that logic. With that same thinking Africans shouldn't erect fences to keep out lions because lions live on land so it's their home. 

We have no problem displacing land animals even here in Australia in the name of comfort, safety, or personal preference. When was the last time you saw someone declare on social media that someone shouldn't erect a snake proof fence because snakes live on land so enter your backyard at your own risk?

That would be absurd. Yet the exact same thing is declared re sharks all the time. 

I've never personally had a friend or family member attacked by a shark. And I don't suffer from a phobia of swimming in the ocean out of a fear of sharks.

But I recognise others might. So fencing off a minuscule percentage of the ocean so humans can swim with the comfort of knowing that they won't be on the front page of the West Australian as the latest shark story victim makes at least a little sense. 

Another strong argument I've read online regarding this particular shark barrier is that the exact spot where it's being proposed has not experienced a shark attack. I'm of the opinion that this misses the entire point. 

Tax payers can't honestly be expected to fund a barrier at every single potential attack site, all we can reasonably be expected to do is give swimmers a couple of options so they can make a decision that's right for themselves. I don't have an opinion on where the best place is to place it, but as long as people have an option, even if they choose to swim elsewhere, at least the community has given people the choice. 

There are some reasonable concerns regarding the barrier, like how much marine life will be harmed by the barrier itself. However, it's worth keeping in mind the proposed barrier is not a net, but a rigid structure. From the City of Mandurah: 

As with all government spending though, the devil is in the details. Exactly how much the barrier will keep costing us each year in maintenance, vs the effect on tourism, and the likelihood of a fatality being prevented, is very hard to measure. There will never be a news story declaring that there wasn't a shark attack in Mandurah this week, and even if there was, you wouldn't click on it. Most divers and surfers are still going to swim elsewhere and be at (a very small) risk of shark attack. And those shark attack stories will keep making front page news.

So even if the community does decide to install the barrier, we need to have a clear headed response on how we respond to media coverage of future attacks outside the barrier. Ratepayers certainly can't be expected to provide a perfectly safe world to swimmers. But if a barrier makes Mandurah a little more desirable to a bunch of folks, I would support an environmentally friendly barrier. 


The State Government is potentially chipping in $200,000 to help pay for a 265m shark barrier that would be installed in an "L-shape" encompassing the swimming pontoon in Falcon Bay.

A community information session will be held at 6pm on March 7 to discuss the matter at the Falcon Pavilion, located at 27 Lynda Street, Falcon.

For more information or to register to attend the session go to haveyoursaymandurah.com.au.