NSW Govt Stumps Up $500,000 For Shark Response Training
It's been seventeen years since Brad Smith was taken by a shark while surfing at Gracetown, Western Australia. Smith's death precipitated a flurry of attacks in WA that catalysed into a new understanding of shark behaviour. No longer was South Australia our 'shark capital', surfers elsewhere also had to beware.
A few years later and surfers on the north coast of NSW were equally unsettled when the statistics began accruing in their region. Since a bodyboarder was taken at Port Macquarie in 2008 there's been eight more fatalities and 62 non-fatal 'interactions'.
In most instances, both in WA and NSW, the victims were surfers, which made a nonsense of platitudes about the chances of a shark attack being as likely as being struck by lightning. Probablity is meaningless when the risk isn't equally shared.
Authorities have been slow to reposnd to the 'new normal', hindered by an emotive debate and a seeming lack of data to base policy upon. In some regions - Esperance and Ballina for instance - the public has been proactive, not waiting for state intervention.
In Esperance, ocean users formed the Ocean Safety and Support Group to gather their own data and take to government, while Lennox/Ballina surfers reached out to surfer paramedic Dr Jon Cohen who held information sessions on responding to shark attack victims. Cohen has also created the Shark Attack Slam Pack which was used by Surfing WA and Yallingup Boardriders in a joint intitative that saw permanent placement of the kits around Yallingup.
Following these leads, the NSW State Government yesterday announced a $500,000 plan to arm more surfers with first responder kits and training. Over 160 boardrider clubs, surf schools, and high-performance coaches, will receive shark incident response kits.
Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall made the announcement: “Sadly, most recent shark attack victims have been surfers, so this investment is about doing everything we can to ensure they get help quickly."
“Every surfer in NSW will now have access to first-aid training through Surfing NSW’s Surfers Rescue 24/7 program, while customised medical kits and training will be supplied to more than 110 NSW boardrider clubs and 55 surf schools."
Unlike Surfing WA, which used the Shark Bite First Aid Slam Pack, Surfing NSW will deploy kits designed by TacMed Paramedics and Military Medics. They includes trauma/bleeding control equipment, multiple hypothermia blankets and equipment for fracture management, basic first aid dressing, and a compact evacuation platform.
TacMed CEO Jeremy Holder believes the kits could be the major difference between life and death.
“A shark attack on a regional or unpatrolled beach can lead to a life-threatening bleed and quickly become fatal,” says Holder. “Oftentimes, you have three to five minutes to stop the bleed and with ambulance response time being an average of eleven minutes, these kits provide simple tools that are backed by years of successful battlefield medicine data and can ultimately assist in saving a life. The trauma first aid kits are small, lightweight, clearly labelled and designed to be deployed in the critical first few minutes after a major incident.”
The financial package includes twenty more drones to patrol Surfing NSW events, which operate in addition to an existing fleet of shark-spotting drones already delivered by Surf Life Saving NSW.
Keep up to date with the program through surfingnsw.com.au