Nouméa resident Aline Guémas swims within the metropolis’s seashores each day. She’s a part of a snorkelling group at fashionable seashore Baie des Citrons and says the waters are full of sea life.
“It has distinctive biodiversity, virtually half of the species current in New Caledonia inhabit its coral reef,” 65-year-old Guémas says. “Some endangered species come to breed right here just like the zebra shark.”
However for months, solely a part of the seashore has been open to swimmers after a collection of shark assaults. The incidents, considered one of which killed an Australian vacationer, have prompted a culling programme and plans for a shark web – each of which have led to a backlash from scientists, environmental teams and plenty of residents.
“Individuals who often frequent these waters know this and are not looking for any shark web to be put in,” says Guémas.
Rise in assaults
Culls started earlier this 12 months and the federal government is because of set up a 758-metre steel web at Baie des Citrons to behave as an underwater fence and stop sharks from swimming too near the shore. The web is because of be put in by October.
It comes after Nouméa noticed three assaults in lower than a month earlier this 12 months, together with the deadly incident in February. Shark assaults have elevated in New Caledonia in current years and the nation ranks thirteenth on the planet for the variety of assaults, in response to the Florida Museum of Pure Historical past. The rise in assaults stays poorly defined, in response to shark scientist and behavioural ecologist Johann Mourier. He says assaults are typically cyclical “with a variety of consecutive biting incidents after which nothing for a number of years”.
“Knowledge tends to be erratic and there are numerous totally different underlying causes, from an absence of prey in excessive waters to feeding or sewage discharges attracting sharks to the shores.”
There is no such thing as a information on shark populations round Nouméa. A examine that started in 2018 was stopped earlier than it might be accomplished due to an assault. Mourier stated any statistics could also be deceptive because the sharks most related to assaults, particularly tiger sharks, commonly transfer round and alter habitat, with some going so far as Australia and New Zealand.
Nouméa’s mayor, Sonia Lagarde, reportedly stated in March that there was an “overpopulation drawback” and “that we have to eliminate a sure variety of [sharks]” . The culls are as a result of run till December, in response to the Nouméa city corridor. Evaluation of public data and information reviews reveals no less than 68 sharks have been killed because the first operation in April.
The mayor and the native authorities authorities declined to remark additional on the culling programme or plans to put in a shark web.
These operations have been criticised by environmental organisations, together with the Worldwide Union for Conservation of Nature, as focused species accountable for assaults – the bull shark and tiger shark – are additionally weak species. They needed to be faraway from native safety lists to allow the culling.
Mourier says “culling campaigns not often work, they solely serve to appease the inhabitants due to the emotion surrounding shark incidents”.
Sharks occupy a sacred place in indigenous Kanak tradition, and are sometimes protected slightly than hunted because of this. “Sharks have a cultural significance for Kanak individuals … they have to be valued,” says Jean-Baptiste Juhel, a researcher in marine biology.
Web threatens biodiversity
Some scientists, together with Mourier, see the proposed shark web as a greater different than culling however say it might nonetheless pose a menace to biodiversity. Based on the affect evaluation commissioned by native authorities, the barrier would destroy a part of the coral reef. Although the proposed web consists of new expertise iron mesh to restrict the chance of wildlife being caught by accident, it might nonetheless doubtlessly suffocate “non-target species” comparable to turtles or leopard sharks, the affect evaluation stated.
Alexandre Henri, an auditor who lives in Nouméa, says the web will “reassure” swimmers however shares concern over the chance to sea life.
“I need there to be a spot the place we all know it’s protected,” the 26-year-old says. “The web will reassure individuals so I’m in favour of the concept. However I nonetheless surprise if fish will get caught in it or the way it will affect the atmosphere.”
Bastien Preuss, a marine biologist based mostly in Nouméa, says the web will harm a part of the coral reef and can stop turtles and dugongs from coming into the bay. Preuss provides the plan to put in the barrier doesn’t deal with the basis causes of the shark assaults.
“Native fisheries fed sharks for over a decade and all of the sudden stopped, now fishing boats empty out 1000’s of litres of fishing juice onto the bay each day, always attracting sharks. A lot public cash has been poured into culling campaigns and boundaries, however there are nonetheless some main points we have to tackle [including] the sewage system.”
Shark nets have lengthy been utilized in Australia however critics say they catch too many different species. Knowledge revealed by the New South Wales authorities discovered virtually 90% of animals caught in shark nets over a 12 months interval have been non-target species together with turtles and dolphins. Alternate options exist, together with drone surveillance and sensible drumlines.
“Nets have already been carried out in Australia and we all know from their expertise that it doesn’t work and that it’s not sustainable,” says marine biology researcher Juhel.