Whitsundays attack fuels debate over shark controls

The debate over shark controls off the Queensland coast has been reignited following an attack on two British tourists which left both hospitalised and one requiring his foot to be amputated.

Danny Maggs, 22, suffered a calf injury and Alistair Raddon, 28, had his foot savaged while snorkelling off a tour boat at Hook Passage, 11 kilometres from Cid Harbour on Whitsunday Island last Tuesday.

The attack, one of a series of serious and fatal shark attacks in the Whitsunday islands over the past year, follows a bitter debate over shark controls both around the islands and along the Queensland Coast.

Last November, a five-point plan agreed by tourism, state and research leaders to manage sharks off the Whitsunday Coast was slated by Queensland opposition leader Deb Frecklington as “borderline negligent”, with “not one practical solution to put people before sharks”.

“For more than 50 years a network of drum lines and nets have protected Queenslanders from shark attacks,” she said.

“At last count there were more than 350 drum lines keeping Queenslanders safe up and down the coast.

“Labor need to explain why one of the only areas of Queensland that does not have drum lines or netting is the Whitsundays.”

Following the latest attack, state fisheries minister Mark Furner said it would be near impossible to have a shark control program in the Whitsundays.

“There has never been a shark control program in operation in the Whitsundays. The only time, last year in September, was a short trial of seven days in the Cid Harbour area following the fatality and the two attacks in that location,” he told the ABC.

The latest attack comes a month after a legal ruling decreed the removal of drum lines from the wider Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, an area stretching the length of the Queensland Coast north from Bundaberg.

The controls were withdrawn after the state government lost a challenge in the Federal Court to continue a culling program in the protected area. The court upheld an earlier tribunal ruling that killing sharks did nothing to reduce the risk of unprovoked attacks, made in a case brought by Humane Society International.

Queensland Tourism Minister Kate Jones said at the time she was “deeply concerned”, telling media: “I know that the tourism industry will be deeply disturbed by this decision.

“There are 27 beaches that currently have shark nets in the Great Barrier Reef area and, as I said, we have been fighting on behalf of the safety of tourists and visitors.”

The tribunal ordered the Department of Fisheries could no longer shoot dead 19 species of shark caught in its 173 drum lines offshore from popular beaches in the marine park, from north of Cairns to just south of Gladstone.

Minister Furner has since written to the federal government seeking a change to the law allowing Queensland to keep its culling permit.

“I am calling on the Federal Government to step in and protect human safety and our tourism industry,” he said at the time of the ruling.

The current laws mean sharks should be released where they are found, except tiger, bull and white sharks, which must be tagged and relocated.

Marine campaigner Lawrence Chlebeck argued at the time of the ruling that the Queensland Government should implement modern techniques to reduce shark and human interactions.

“The culling program was not protecting swimmers and it was a detriment to the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.

“They need to do a much better job at doing that [managing wildlife].”

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk would not be drawn on the issue of drum lines and Queensland’s shark culling program following last week’s attack.

“I’m not going to talk about the politics of drum lines today. My main concern today is for the welfare of these two people that have been injured by what appears to be a shark attack,” she said.

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