QLD Government Will Not Bow To End Woman's Hunger Strike
Earlier this week we published an interview with environmental campaigner, Nicole McLachlan concerning a hunger strike she began on Saturday, February 6, 2016. McLachlan began the hunger strike to draw attention to the protection of both humans and marine life off the coast of Queensland and particularly an end to shark net programs.
McLachlan has now gone seven days without food in support of this cause and concerns are now being raised in the community about her mental and physical welfare.
Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Leanne Donaldson has urged Ms McLachlan to end her hunger strike for "the good of her health" and said she had no plans to meet with her. According to the Minister’s comments in yesterday’s Brisbane Times. "I will be responding to her (Nicole's) letter with an invitation for her to meet again with departmental staff," she said.
Minister Donaldson pointed out that the government would continue to monitor equipment and technology and will integrate methods that are proven to work, such as the implementation of acoustic alarms (pingers) on nets in 2014.
At this point, the invitation to meet with the department staff is not good enough for McLachlan who has vowed to continue her hunger strike.
Which leads us to ask: is changing government policy on shark nets something McLachlan is really willing to die for? At Coastalwatch, we certainly hope this isn’t the case and that some common sense prevails.
With no signs of giving in Ms McLachlan said to us earlier this week, "I want to raise awareness about the reality of the current shark net programs, highlight the destructive nature of the nets & drum lines, and mobilise the Queensland government to transition to non-lethal alternatives and phase out lethal shark control methods."
McLachlan said that she would continue the hunger strike as a fast, not consuming anything but water until the Queensland Department of Fisheries, met with her to address her three demands in policy change and consider the NSW Government's approach to shark mitigation. These demands are:
- A commitment of at least $16 million (to match the NSW State Governments’ recent commitment) into the trial and implementation of non-lethal alternatives along Queensland beaches (to ultimately replace shark nets and drum lines).
- A commitment to phase out all shark nets along the Queensland coast within the year 2016. McLachlan believes these nets are a high risk to beachgoers and marine rescue crews and should be removed as soon as possible.
- A commitment to phase out all drum lines off the Queensland coastline over five years, by replacing these with nonlethal alternatives (e.g. shark spotters programs).
Daryl McPhee, Associate Professor of Environmental Management at Bond University has expressed great concern over the avenue that Ms McLachlan has chosen to communicate with the state government.
McPhee said "The issue was brought to my attention by professors in our faculty of psychology. We are concerned about the young lady's physical and mental health. It’s a very misguided belief that a hunger strike will influence a political outcome. It’s a terrible message to send to young people out there that you can get your way through starvation."
At day seven, McLachlan's body will have entered Ketosis, whereby her energy to live and function is replaced by body fat instead of glucose/carbs. If, after three weeks she still hasn’t eaten, her body will enter starvation which can become a life-threatening stage of deterioration of the mind and organs.
Nobody responds well to ultimatums and it is rarely a sensible way to achieve changes in public policy. There have been very few hunger strikes in political history that have ever achieved their goals, so at this stage, no matter how worthy her cause, it appears that McLachlan’s passion may be getting in the way of that reality.
While the hunger strike has drawn some attention to the issue of shark protection, this week, it seems that focus is more on the drama of the hunger strike and it's ramifications on McLachlan's health, rather than the issue itself.
The issue: protecting both humans and marine life and achieving shark attack mitigation. To what level is it achievable and what is the government doing to progress this?
The NSW government has been applauded for it's $16 million commitment to trial and advance shark mitigation technology and strategy using non-lethal approaches including the Eco-Barrier, sonar systems, aerial patrols, tag & release lines and research. This commitment came after a horrific year on the state's north coast with one fatality and 14 attacks.
In 2015, Queensland recorded four unprovoked attacks and no deaths with a Shark Control Program (SCP) that has been in place since 1962 when nets and lines were put in place to remove high-risk sharks from strategic locations. (read more in the Shark Safety Report 2006).
Since the 1970's there has been a steady trend associated with fatalities, but it cannot be directly attributed to the addition of the nets and lines as statistics show they hover around similar numbers from the early 1900's when the ocean swimming population was much less.
Despite these numbers, there is an ongoing debate over whether the SCP is effective or ineffective and should it continue at the price of the lives of our thriving marine ecosystem. In 2015, non-targeted bi-catches via drumlines and nets accounted for 81 bi-catch marine animals, of those, 36 were deceased, and 45 were released.
Amongst the targeted there were 287 tiger sharks caught on drumlines and nets in the waters of Queensland where over 13 million visitors used the world-class beaches. You can see the figures available here.
The state's SCP currently relies on nets and drumlines to minimise attacks but is not in place as a barrier. They claim "It is important to reduce the inadvertent impacts of the SCP on other marine animals (bycatch) without compromising human safety. Bycatch levels are carefully monitored and research is focused on minimising impacts on non-target species."
McLachlan's campaign not only highlights the catches and bi-catches of marine life, but also the incidences when humans have drowned due to shark nets and drumlines.
A spokesperson for the Department of Fisheries said "At the moment there are no other proven measures that will work for Queensland waters...If we remove the nets and drumlines there will be a significant increase in the risk of attack" This methodology is a priority for a state whose beach, surf culture and coastal tourism is their lifeblood with results, which so far are keeping attacks and fatalities to a minimum.
The ABC ran a story on its program 4 Corners on Monday night covering all areas of this huge issue. One of the most striking quotes came from Sharon Burden, the mother of a fatal shark attack victim. In the program, she said, "If you think about a day like today, all around Australia there would be tens of thousands of people in the ocean today.
She continued: “We can not – the government cannot put into place the strategies that will help protect every single one of those people on every single beach around our massive coastline. There has to be some form of strategy between "don't do anything" and "kill everything".
“And there is this area in the middle where we really need people to move to and that is: if I am going to a beach, I need to understand that there is a risk involved in these wild environments. But what can I do as a parent or as an individual if I'm swimming or surfing or diving that might help reduce those risks?" Burden concluded.
In a similar vein, John G. West from the Taronga Zoo Conservation Society published in his study of the 'Changing Patterns Of Shark Attacks In Australia' matching the ABC's investigation that, "The increase in shark attacks over the past two decades is consistent with international statistics of shark attacks increasing annually because of the greater numbers of people in the water.”
SEE ALSO: To Cull Or Not To Cull, By Jock Serong
So with all the talk about mitigation strategies and the search to find an 'answer', are we merely putting our primal and evolutionary fear of an animal before and the temptation of creating an instantly gratifying response to incidents that will continue to happen purely because our population of ocean users is expanding?
Culling certainly isn't the answer, but no one has a definitively proven answer yet to enable our ocean use to be free of the risk of shark attack. If they did, they would be making a lot of money off governments all over the world. Perhaps, all we can do is continue to love our healthy, thriving ocean backyard and accept personal responsibility for the times we choose to use or not use the infinitely and always potentially deadly liquid playground.
So while McLachlan's hunger strike continues, it is equally apparent that there is no simple solution to this issue, but lots of passion for finding a balanced approach.
- QLD Shark Control Program
- NSW Shark Management Strategy
- Western Australia Shark Smart Website
- The Conversation - Analysis On Statistics
- Four Corners Video Replay & Transcript
- Sea Shepherd Operation Apex Harmony
- The Changing Patterns Of Shark Attacks In Australia
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