Shark nets help us feel at ease when we take a dip in the water. But unfortunately, these poorly designed nets are killing our sharks and thousands of non-target species. Holly Richmond set out to monitor the nets on a 2-year project diving in the Gold Coast. What she found was shocking and saddening, including coming across a live humpback whale entanglement.
This was exactly the reason she began this project in the first place. Holly had assisted in Humpback Whale research for 4 years when she decided to embark on this journey to learn more about the shark nets and their entanglements.
Where did your love for the ocean and specifically sharks begin?
I grew up traveling around Australia and became very connected to nature. I always loved the ocean, and once I got older having the opportunity to snorkel and dive only made my love for the ocean stronger. At a young age I saw many of the human impacts on the environment, I saw dead turtles washed ashore with plastic in their stomachs, that’s what sparked marine conservation for me. In particular sharks, I’ve always had a strong interest and curiosity about them. Unfortunately, we are taught to fear these animals but I was never truly sure how exactly I felt about them; it was only until I met one. Diving with sharks and seeing them in their element, witnessing their calm demeanour and graceful movements I soon understood how beautiful and mistaken they are for the Hollywood blockbuster sharks. Having the opportunity to dive with sharks helps remove that fear and doubt out of my mind and allows me to truly see them for what they are; a big fish.
What led you to creating your own film about the shark cull in Australia, The Shark Net Film?
I was previously working as a research assistant looking at the humpback whale population that passes the east coast of Australia each year. It wasn’t long before I became aware of the whale entanglements that happen seasonally in the shark nets. This is what sparked my specific interest in shark nets on the Gold Coast which are a part of the Queensland Shark Control Program. I did a lot of research into this program and analysis on the amount of animals that become entangled in these nets, that I simply wanted to know more. There was no better way to understand what gets caught in the nets, than to go out there myself and have a look. That’s what started my 2-year journey with a small team of dedicated and passionate marine biologists and photographers to observe, monitor and record what we saw. The more we went out the more we learnt and discovered, it simply made sense to put our findings in a short documentary to show the world. That is how The Shark Net Film came about. Since the release of the film August 2019, we have received an amazing response from a variety of individuals and organisations. It has been a really successful time since the release, and we only want to push it further to help educate more people and show them what is happening beneath the surface.
Can you tell us about the new film Envoy Shark Cull and your involvement in it?
Not long after the release of The Shark Net Film, I was contacted to be interviewed for a full feature documentary Envoy Shark Cull. I guess my expertise in marine biology and recent experiences monitoring the Queensland Shark Control Program would add great value to the film. The film was recently released in cinemas where I saw it for the first time on the big screen. Oh boy! was I impressed. I was so grateful to see some of the footage taken during the making of The Shark Net Film and sharing my experiences and knowledge presented on such a great platform alongside many other inspiring ocean conservationists. The Envoy Shark Cull documentary has been a huge success and I couldn’t be more proud of all the members involved in its production and distribution.
Have you seen any progress in Australia since people like you have been speaking out against shark nets and drumlines?
A change is coming and it is something we haven’t seen in years. People are starting to listen, science is being utilised and communicated better and our laws and practises around animal ethics and protection are getting stronger. It is the power of the people, our voices are clearer and louder, we are being heard. The incredible use of technology, video cameras and social media helps us spread our message further and quicker. 15 years ago it was a different story, but now we have so much power in the palm of our hands. Unfortunately, shark culling in Australia has barely changed since the 1930’s however in the past 5 years New South Whales have worked towards trialling non-lethal measures which is a huge step in the history of shark control programs. It is also an exciting time in Queensland right now, as we are seeing small positive steps being taken by trialling drone surveillances at beaches. Yes, these are small steps that we would like to be bigger, but this is just the beginning of a very exciting time to get the ball rolling and it is all because of the power of the people. I have hope for a changed future, it’ll take a lot of work but I can see it.
What are the other options for shark control in Australia to keep people safe in the water?
I think we need to steer away from the terminology of ‘shark control’ and the idea that we can control an animal that has existed for more than 400 million years. The way of the future is simply coexistence. There are some amazing technologies that have been developed or are developing to help mitigate the risk of shark bites and negative encounters. Some current alternative solutions include drone and helicopter surveillance, shark spotting programs, shark barriers, electromagnetic deterrent devices, SMART drumlines (tag and release) and sonar technology. They are the main technologies that have been trilled and proven to have some form of effectiveness in reducing negative human-shark encounters however, it is important to understand that there is never going to be a silver bullet. There will always be a risk when it comes to being in the ocean. These devices help reduce the risk of these very rare events even further. Education is the key, think of how many deaths have been avoided with the understandings of dangerous ocean rips and currents. We can educate ourselves on shark safety to further minimise the risks, just like swimming in between the red and yellow flags patrolled by lifeguards. Here are a few tips when it comes to being shark smart that will in turn help protect not only your safety but the safety of sharks too.
Avoid entering the water:
- …during low light visibility at dawn and dusk. There are also few sharks that forage and hunt for food during this change in environmental conditions.
- …where bait balls (schooling fish) are present. Also avoid entering the water near any deceased carcasses e.g. beached whale or swimming where it is known for fisherman to discard their fish waste in the water.
- …after heavy rainfall events or strong upwelling events that can change the visibility in the water. Murky and unclear water can be dangerous for a variety of reasons.
- …near steep underwater drop offs or any significant changes in the topography of the ocean.
How can people help put an end to the outdated and lethal shark nets?
Don’t ever underestimate the power of knowledge, as a passionate individual make an effort to learn all there is to know about shark culling and the common misconceptions about sharks. Once you are educated, you can do the teaching and inspiring. My key message is ‘make it a conversation’ bring it up with people that might not know anything about shark culling, ocean health or shark conservation. Sharks are a topic that comes up in conversations a lot through the media, so let’s at least set the facts straight. We can all make a difference to inform the people around us, family, friends and peers.
As a very passionate conservationist I have learnt that it is crucial to understand that everyone has their own agenda, thoughts and passions. We must still show respect to others when our passion isn’t there number one priority, the least we can do is share the facts and let them make an informed decision and opinion on their own. Remember, we just want to start those ripples to make change.
We can also voice ourselves in other ways, louder ways! We can chose to vote towards any positive changes to shark culling, use your voice in surveys and polls online, write a well written and professional letter to your local member of parliament or join activist organisations and groups in your area. The possibilities are endless to get involved and share your voice.
We reached out to you because you're an inspiration to us, but who or what inspired you to begin your journey?
Honestly, 5 years ago I would have never thought I’d be where I am today. I have had a variety of inspirational role models throughout the years however no one specifically in my working field. To be completely honest, I just let my passion run wild and free, no limits and no expectations of myself. I have always just done what I thought was right for our planet and I was never afraid to voice myself. That fiery burn inside you when you are passionate about something, that is so valuable, that fuel can help you change the world, you just have to use it!
Watch Holly’s documentary, The Shark Net Film, here.
Check out Envoy: Shark Cull here.
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