Mass rallies around nation add teeth to Western Australia's shark cull protests

By Kathy Marks

Protesters on Manly Beach in Sydney joined others at home and abroad who objected to the new shark cull policy. Photo / AP
Protesters on Manly Beach in Sydney joined others at home and abroad who objected to the new shark cull policy. Photo / AP

More mass protests against Western Australia's shark cull were staged around the country at the weekend, but Liberal state Premier Colin Barnett is standing firm, supported by a sympathetic federal Government.

The rallies - the largest attracting about 6000 people to Perth's Cottesloe Beach - took place within hours of a 2m tiger shark being found dead on one of the baited drum lines that have been set 1km off the state's most popular beaches. Under the catch-and-kill policy, only sharks bigger than 3m are supposed to be killed.

Although great whites - one of the species targeted by Barnett - are endangered and protected under federal law, Environment Minister Greg Hunt has granted an exemption.

The Coalition Government has also endorsed the dumping on the Great Barrier Reef of waste material from dredging to enlarge the Abbott Pt coal port. The project will go ahead after the agency overseeing the World Heritage-listed reef gave its approval last week.

Both moves have horrified conservationists, as has the federal Government's confirmation that it will seek to have 170,000ha of Tasmanian forest removed from the World Heritage register, just a year after it was listed. The Liberals are expected to win next month's state election in Tasmania.

The shark cull, announced after seven fatal attacks in Western Australian waters in the past three years, has been condemned by high-profile figures including comedian Ricky Gervais, who tweeted: "Please protect your sharks. They were there first."

Entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson told Fairfax Radio that, far from emboldening tourists to visit the state, the policy was "going to do quite the reverse ... You're advertising a problem that doesn't exist and ... deterring people from wanting to come to Perth."

Protests were held in more than a dozen places around Australia on Saturday, and there were also rallies in South Africa and New Zealand. Among the thousands of people converging on Sydney's Manly Beach was Anthony Joyce, a surfer who survived a shark attack last October.

Although it took him three months to go back in the water, Joyce told Australian Associated Press that he believed a cull was ineffective and the Government should instead fund marine biology programmes and shark education in schools and surf lifesaving clubs.

At Cottesloe on Saturday, a light aircraft pulling a giant banner stating "Great whites have rights" flew back and forth over the rally. A flotilla of boats also towing banners bobbed offshore.

At Meelup Beach, in the state's southwest, the crowd was told of an eight-year project in Brazil to catch sharks, then tag them, tow them out to sea and release them. According to Professor Jessica Meuwig, director of the University of Western Australia's Centre for Marine Futures, it has led to a 97 per cent drop in attacks.

In WA, reports on Australia Day of the first shark being killed and dumped at sea under the new policy prompted a furious response on social media.

On Friday, drum lines were set off Perth's beaches; within hours, two small tiger sharks had been caught and set free. On Saturday, a third, also undersized, was found, already dead.

- NZ Herald

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