Submission Regarding Alternative Shark Cage Diving Sites

Leafy Seadragon

Introduction

South Australia offers some of Australia’s finest waters for recreational boating. What SA lacks in tropical waters and coral reefs, it makes up for with clean, biologically diverse temperate waters, world-class snorkeling, diving and fishing, and historical gulf ports. Shark cage diving should therefore be viewed as just one component of a larger marine tourism industry. Dive sites must therefore be selected to ensure compatibility with other tourism activities, while minimising adverse environmental impacts.

Nautical tourism, which combines a love of sailing and boating with holiday activities, warrants special consideration. First defined as an industry segment in The Mediterranean, it has since spread globally to become a multi-billion dollar business. In Australia, the Whitsunday Group of islands in Queensland is the most popular nautical tourism destination, although other locations, such as Shell Harbour in NSW, are investing heavily to promote nautical tourism.

While South Australia has yet to develop a substantial nautical tourism industry, the potential is huge. The Southern Fleurieu Peninsula, Kangaroo Island and Lower Spencer Gulf, are all spectacular sailing destinations, and all are within 1 or 2 days sailing of Adelaide. The prime sailing season in South Australia is during the Australian summer and early autumn months, which complements the Whitsundays, where the sailing is at its best during the winter and spring months. When overseas tourists visit Australia to escape the Northern Hemisphere winter, South Australia offers an attractive Mediterranean climate. In contrast, it is northern Queensland’s wet season and cyclone season.

There is therefore a significant opportunity to further develop South Australia as a nautical tourism destination for both domestic and overseas tourists. Indeed, SA could over time develop as a major cruising destination during the Australian summer months.

While nautical tourism is centred on yachting, it also includes other on-water tourism activities, such as boat tours, recreational water sports, fishing charters, sailing schools, etc. There is of course scope to include shark cage diving in the mix of activities, providing sufficient care is given to the choice of locations.

Compatible activities

The information provided on the marine parks website identifies a large number alternative sites. One of the stated goals in the letter submitted by shark-cage diving industry operators is to “provide minimal potential impact for other ocean users.” This goal is admirable, indeed critical. This goal can only be achieved by restricting shark cage diving to offshore sites that are far from human visitation. Many of the alternative sites being suggested, do not satisfy this requirement. In particular islands which are part of the Sir Joseph Banks Group (SJBG) or en route to these islands, must therefore be excluded from consideration for shark diving. The Sir Joseph Banks Group is truly one of South Australia’s untapped natural wonders, with unspoiled beaches and remarkable aquatic wildlife. I personally have sailed and spent time on these islands and artificially attracting sharks to these islands would greatly damage their appeal as a destination for tourists. While visitors today accept the slight risk of swimming in waters with seals, which is indeed part of the attraction of places such as English Island, artificially enticing more sharks to such locations would introduce unreasonable risks.

While nautical tourism in the Spencer Gulf is arguably modest today, it should be noted that every visiting boatie that cruises Spencer Gulf is already visiting Port Lincoln for fuel and supplies, and spending tourism dollars as a result. Refer to my blog post for a description of one such visit from Port Lincoln to The Sir Joseph Banks Group.

Shark cage diving locations must therefore be selected with a view to being compatible with other nautical activities. Further, given the long (10-year) timeframe for the agreement with industry operators, careful consideration must also be given to emerging and future activities, such as nautical tourism.

Environmental impact

Consideration must also be given to the environmental impact of shark cage diving, in particular the impact of anchoring and ground tackle. There are several reports of boats using shark cages (although not necessarily shark cage diving tourism vessels) that have been observed anchoring in seagrass meadows that are prime habitat for Leafy Seadragons, South Australia’s iconic marine emblem.

Shark cage operators should be required to use permanent moorings, such as Seagrass Friendly moorings, to minimize the environmental damage caused by repeated anchoring at the same location.

Recommendations

Location
Support
Comments
Dangerous Reef
(-34.81744479, 136.21747697)       
No
This location, while not a boating destination per se, is directly en route between Adelaide and Port Lincoln and the SJBG.
Greenly Island
(-34.644570, 134.794020)
Yes
Sufficiently remote.
Williams Island
(-35.030830, 135.975310)
No
Too close to the mainland, and popular sailing destinations such as Memory Cove.
Liguanea Island
(-34.989140, 135.621590)
Maybe
Close to the mainland and the beaches of Port Lincoln National Park. Requires further investigation.
Afternote: On 25 April 2015 a shark attacked and critically injured a surfer at Fishery Bay, less than 5 miles form Liguanea Island.
Pearson Island
(-33.96089355, 134.26499861)
No
One of SA's most scientifically important islands due to its unique ecology, this island holds great promise for ecotourism (amended 28 Nov 2016).
Four Hummocks Islands
(-34.773570, 135.030160)
Yes
Sufficiently remote.
Perforated Island
(-34.727320, 135.156510)
Yes
Sufficiently remote.
Sibsey Island (-34.645570, 136.182680)
No
Part of SJBG. Frequently visited by boaties.
English Island (-34.63780504, 136.19625979)
No
Part of SJBG. Frequently visited by boaties.
Price Island (-34.706980, 135.287950)
No
Too close to the mainland and the beaches of Coffin Bay National Park.
Buffalo Reef (-34.71861093, 136.46043279)
No
En route to SJBG.
Massilion Island
(-32.562860, 133.289630) and St  Francis Island (-32.510590, 133.292750),
St Francis Island Group
Maybe
These islands have potential for nautical tourism. Requires further investigation.
The Pages
(-35.77621133, 138.29254028)
Maybe
Reasonably close to mainland and Kangaroo Island. Frequently visited by fishing boats, including fishing charters. Requires further investigation.

Summary

In summary, potential locations for shark cage diving should be selected as to be sufficiently remote as to encourage sharks to remain well offshore, thereby minimising impact on other tourism activities. This rules out all islands which are part of or near to the Sir Joseph Bank Group, as well as other islands, such as Williams and Price which are close to popular mainland beaches.

This is submission has also been sent to the South Australian Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR).

OVER.

28 Nov 2016: Changed support for Pearson Island from "yes" to "no".