When a teenager died from a shark attack off the coast of Western Australia last month, the Australian federal government decided to pull out all the stops. “In light of the recent shark attack the commonwealth would welcome any proposal to protect human life first and foremost,” Josh Frydenberg, Australia’s Environment Minister, proclaimed. But popular proposals, including culling and the introduction of new drum line technology, could have devastating impacts on marine life – and human lives, too.
In the past, culling has been among the government’s first lines of defense following an influx of shark attacks. Humane Society International (HSI) argues that lethal culling methods could easily cause the grey nurse shark to go extinct and the loggerhead turtle to become critically endangered, while also threatening the status of hammerhead and tiger sharks. Human activities such as shark finning and “bottom trawling” commercial fishing techniques are already driving many shark species to extinction, and truth be told, we can’t afford to lose any more of these fascinating creatures.
Sharks are among the oceans’ keystone species, and they are not only critical to the ecosystems in which they live – they are crucial to our way of life, as well. Their disappearance from those ecosystems causes a trophic cascade and leads to the die out of other key marine species, which directly affects the one billion people worldwide who rely on seafood as a primary source of protein. Humans further depend on sharks to keep marine populations healthy and the oceanic food web in check. In doing so, sharks rein in the amount of ancient carbon stored in seagrass and other ocean vegetation that would be released if turtle, crab, and stingray populations grew out of balance. Moreover, they sequester large amounts of carbon themselves, further inhibiting climate change.
Drum lines, which are large nets placed off of popular beach areas, would also severely impact these ecosystems, as hundreds of untargeted species meet their demise when they become tangled in these enormous nets and drown. In New South Wales, where these lines have been used, close to 4,000 marine animals have been unnecessarily killed, and less than four percent of those were targeted sharks. Instead, 1269 Stingrays, 52 Dolphins, 47 Turtles, 6 Whales, 4 Seals, a Penguin and a Dugong were lost for no purpose – because even the Western Australian government has admitted that these drum lines are ineffective in preventing shark attacks.
Knee-jerk reactions and decisions like these to implement drum line technology and engage in culling end up causing more harm, as well as lasting damage to our valuable ocean ecosystems. And they are completely unnecessary considering that more effective and humane solutions, like subsidies for personal shark shields, exist.
Please join us in signing this petition on Care2, which urges Australia’s Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg to classify shark culls and drum lines as threatening activities and encourage alternate solutions that have proven more effective and humane.
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