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Marine Experts Call For Urgent Action To Protect Grey Nurse Sharks

Media Release

2 December 2002

Coastcare Week 2002

With less than 300 Grey Nurse Sharks remaining along the NSW coastline and numbers quickly declining, legendary marine experts and Coastcare Week Ambassadors, Ron and Valerie Taylor, today sent an urgent wake-up call to NSW - Protect the habitat of these wonderful marine animals or risk losing them forever!

Coastcare Week (1 -7 December) is drawing attention to the plight of Australia's threatened and vulnerable marine species in a new campaign — 'The Coast is our Home'. The Grey Nurse Shark is considered Australia's most threatened marine species and is at more risk than the Black Rhino in Africa.

Ron and Valerie Taylor have been worldwide pioneers in marine education for over 50 years. They filmed the live shark sequences in the blockbuster movie 'Jaws' for Steven Spielberg in the 1970's and made a series of hit television programs about marine life. Valerie Taylor has also been awarded the 2002 Australian Senior Achiever of the Year for marine conservation.

"The Grey Nurse Shark has been protected from fishing in NSW waters since 1984, however shark numbers are still on the decline," Valerie Taylor said.

Conservationists like the Taylors are urging the protection of habitats that are critical to the shark's survival. Thirteen key habitat sites for Grey Nurse Sharks have been identified in NSW.

Scientific experts recommend that a minimum 1000m no-take sanctuary zone must be established around each of the thirteen habitat areas to reduce incidental injuries, potential disturbances to breeding and to protect the Grey Nurse's food resources. The critical habitat area comprises less than 0.03 percent of NSW coastal waters.

Ms Taylor added, "The recent announcement of protection measures by the NSW Government, establishing rules for fishing and diving in critical habitat areas, are a good start but far more needs to be done."

In the past Grey Nurse Sharks were greatly affected by spearfishing. Activities that contribute to their decline today include their incidental capture in commercial and recreational fisheries and protective beach meshing.

According to Ron Taylor, recreational anglers currently have some impact as they can accidentally hook Grey Nurses when they are fishing for other species.

"Recent diver surveys for NSW Fisheries recorded approximately 206 Grey Nurse Sharks impaled by fishing hooks. More than 90 percent of these hooks were identified as recreational hooks and less than 10 percent as commercial hooks," Ron said.

"Recreational fishing is undoubtedly one of Australia's most popular leisure activities. We are now at a critical point where we must inspire all anglers and the community to be active in the protection of Grey Nurse Sharks.

"Commercial and recreational anglers are often criticised for the decline of many of Australia's marine species and there is no doubt past fishing practices have caused serious impact on some fish populations. However, many anglers and divers are now involved in initiatives to help improve the long-term health of Grey Nurse Sharks. Steps are being taken to educate anglers about how to avoid hooking Grey Nurses. In fact, everything possible is being done to protect the Grey Nurse except the one thing that is most needed — protecting their habitat!"

Divers are also being encouraged to follow the Commonwealth Code of Conduct when diving with the sharks.

"When I first started diving I would frequently swim with great pods of Grey Nurses. Now you are lucky to see one. Any diver will tell you, these animals are not dangerous and are not known to attack humans," Ron said.

In April 2000, the NSW Government added Grey Nurse Sharks to the list of 'Endangered' species under the Fisheries Management Act (Schedule 5). Under the Act, a person must not harm, buy, sell or possess any endangered species and the maximum fine for harming a Grey Nurse Shark is $220,000 and/or two years imprisonment. In 2001 the Commonwealth Government listed the Grey Nurse Shark as critically endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Mr Lachie Whetham from NSW Coastcare said that while the Grey Nurse Shark was the first shark to be protected in the world, there is no evidence this has succeeded in stopping or reversing the decline in their numbers.

"Grey Nurse Sharks have a low rate of reproduction, which makes them very vulnerable to threatening processes and very slow to recover when their populations are reduced. There are now concerns the population of Grey Nurses has fallen to such critically low numbers that individual animals are now failing to find mates and successfully reproduce.

"The decline of Grey Nurse Sharks has been recognised by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which has listed Grey Nurse Sharks as globally vulnerable. Grey Nurse Sharks are a national icon. Tourists come from all over the world to dive with these amazing creatures. We must do what we can to protect them," Mr Whetham said.

Thirteen Critical Habitat areas in NSW:

Julian Rocks near Byron Bay, North and South Solitary Islands in Solitary Islands Marine Park (Coffs Harbour), Green Island and Fish Rock near South West Rocks, The Pinnacle near Forster, Big Seal and Little Seal at Seals Rocks, Little Broughton Island near Port Stephens, Magic Point near Maroubra, Bass Point near Shellharbour, The Tollgate Islands in Batemans Bay and Montague Island near Narooma.

Coastcare is a program of the Commonwealth Government's Natural Heritage Trust, in partnership with State/Territory and Local Governments.

For more information on Coastcare or to join a Coastcare group, please call Environment Australia's Community Information Unit on 1800 803 772 or visit the web site at: www.ea.gov.au/coasts/coastcare

Further Media Information:

Interviews with Ron & Valerie Taylor, contact Ross Woodward or Jessica Morrow from Media Key on:
(03) 9787 5844.

Media in New South Wales can also contact Mr Lachie Whetham, NSW Coastcare direct by calling 02 6569 5801 or
0417 255 351.

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