First published on 20 May 2011. Updated on 25 May 2012.
Eco Divers, a 40-strong network of local divers formed in early 2007, protects Sydney’s endangered ocean inhabitants and underwater environments from over-fishing, pollution and community neglect.
A large part of their work over summer is to monitor the shark nets that go up every year at more than 50 beaches between Wollongong and Newcastle. The nets don’t cover the entire length of each beach but are designed to deter sharks from establishing a territory near shore.
Many people feel at ease knowing shark nets protect the coastline, but these nets often do more harm than good. Several times a week Eco Divers release tangled animals from the nets. “The by- catch in these nets is horrendous,” says their leader Dave Thomas. “We’ve found dolphins, dugongs, sea turtles, and countless species of harmless sharks and rays.”
Eco Divers take photos of the net’s victims to agitate government for action. “I don’t think we can ever get rid of the nets but we can push to get them more efficient, with more buoys and bottom-settings to reduce the amount of by-catch. Changes would also make them more effective in catching the potentially dangerous sharks they’re supposed to.”
Eco Divers also track the health and spread of sea grass in the Harbour and Cabbage Tree Bay. Sea grass is vital because it stabilises the ocean floor and forms the basis for everything else to grow and survive. “Years of dragging the bottom has turned the bottom of Sydney Harbour into a desert,” says Thomas. “We want to bring back the structure and bring back the fish.”
Eco Divers also protect a colony of Pot-bellied Seahorses in Manly. “The nets provide all they need: something to hang onto, protection from waves and tides, and plenty of Mysid shrimp, their sole food supply. They hang on and let the food come to them,” says Thomas. A lesson for us all perhaps?
Go to Eco Divers for more information