Sitting down to contemplate yet another shark attack in my hood, I can’t help but raise the question: “are we missing the point?”
Last Tuesday’s attack at Lighthouse Beach, better known by locals as North Wall, tips us upwards of a dozen shark attacks along a 20-kilometre stretch of coast since February. Call it perception or what you will, but that’s a bloody high number of attacks and puts us on par with Reunion Island (17 attacks in 4 years). In fact, if I were to simplify the stats and look at the estimated 100 daily North Wall surfers, the chances of them getting nabbed would sit at an alarming 1 in 25. This is a very long way removed from the 1 in 1,000,000-odd statistics that desk bound, non-water users seem so enthusiastic to spruik.
On a clear blue morning in February I pulled up to Speeds, just some 50m north of Lighthouse Beach, for my morning surf. Instead of going straight to my car boot to get changed, I held up my phone to take a wide shot from the car park to tease my instagram followers – the conditions were pristine. But I was shocked at what I saw through the lens; what seemed like an injured, unconscious surfer being carried in over the rocks, his head limp between the arms of two male surfers carrying out the apparent rescue.
Following the trail of blood along the path of the rescue attempt it was soon clear the injured surfer’s legs were missing from above the knee. I called an ambulance whilst the rescuers torniqueted the victim’s legs and began CPR. A half hour later, Tadashi Nakahara was pronounced dead at our feet by paramedics.
Tadashi’s death rocked the community, but most surfers – me included – tried to regroup by shrugging it off as a freak or unlucky occurrence, whilst appreciating that Tadashi died doing what he loved (his last wave was a pearler of a barrel). Fast forward nine months and a dozen attacks later, and it’s safe to say opinions have changed. Just this past weekend I arrived at North Wall to check the surf only to find lifeguards clearing the water due to a shark sighting. A helicopter circled overhead working with the lifesaving rubber ducky below in an attempt to move the shark along. Families had arrived to the beach for a swim only to be told they should not enter the water, turning around with their inflatable rings and body boards on this 30-degree-plus day, solemn to the harsh reality that these “freak” occurrences have become the norm.
In the meantime, we’ve seen countless media features, scientific meetings, and public debates, and yet no one seems to hold the answers. Certainly, a change in environmental conditions have resulted in sharks, White Sharks in particular, to favour this north coast at present, as to the specific reasons, scientists seem to debate each other, but the fingers point toward the warming of the East Australian Current, a late whale migration, and un-precented volumes of bait fish close to shore as being key factors linking back to the increase of shark activity. And while the council urges the state government to pay more attention – just this week we were due to have eco-nets measured in Ballina – the surfing community here is faced with the harsh reality that each time we enter the water one of us is highly likely to have an encounter. Of course, staying out of the water is a sure way to reduce our odds of death by shark, but that’s where I think we’re missing the point.
In 2010, environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote in his profound book ‘Eaarth’: “We’re not, in other words, going to get back the planet we used to have, the one which our civilization developed.” Founding 350.org in an attempt to preserve our planet for future generations, in ‘Eaarth” McKibben suggests the alarming rate of Global Warming is pushing us “right past the point where any kind of adaptation will prove impossible.”
I find McKibben’s words relevant to our situation here in Ballina; humans have dramatically transformed our planet so much so it’s not the one we were born on to. What was once the fight to preserve the Earth for our grandchildren is now a present reality that our children are growing up in a world where “freak” occurrences - like storms, earthquakes, tsunamis and shark attacks – have become the norm. It’s no longer about preservation, but rather about adaptation, and even then without big changes we’re pushing ourselves faster to the point of no return: an Earth unfit for human beings.
- By Angie Davis
More on Bill McKibben: http://www.billmckibben.com/
For amazing underwater photography of sharks, check out Matt Draper's work at: http://www.mattdraperphotography.com/