Global Challenges Program

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Threatened and Threatening: Governing Sharks for Conservation and Human Safety 

The Project

Sharks: Threatened or threatening? Project 400 by 228This project draws on multidisciplinary expertise to explore how we can govern species that are both threatened and potentially threatening to humans.

The Illawarra and Shoalhaven regions are home to several shark species that are concurrently listed as both threatened and threatening, including white sharks and several species of whaler sharks. These regions are also key to tourism as our coastlines form an integral part of our cultural identity. They are hotspots for beach and ocean activity.

In NSW the Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program (SMP) has been a key shark management strategy since the 1930s. In recent years, and in light of policy change and action in Western Australia, shark hazard mitigation strategies that involve pre-emptively killing sharks have come under international scrutiny.

A five yearly review of the NSW SMP – of which the Illawarra is a part – is currently underway. This presents an opportunity to rethink the way we manage sharks and shark hazards, which are frequently guided by fear, and address only part of a wider suite of issues.

This project integrates science and socio-cultural concerns to examine shark management in terms of both conservation and human safety. It examines spatial data of shark sighting, tracking, beach use and shark attack data; reviews what is known about shark ecology and conservation in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven regions; and investigates key concerns of stakeholder institutions regarding shark management. 

About The Researchers

Dr Leah Gibbs is a Senior Lecturer in Geography in the Faculty of Social Sciences. She is a Human Geographer and an expert in cultural meanings and values associated with nature, and environmental governance.  She is also working on a project with Dr Andrew Warren about human-shark encounters in WA.

Matthew Rees is a PhD candidate in the School or Biological Sciences in the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health.  He is a Marine Ecologist with expertise in spatial ecology, marine conservation, and spatial statistics.

Lachlan Fetterplace is a PhD candidate in the School of Biological Sciences in the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health. He is a marine ecologist with expertise in fish ecology and acoustic tracking. Lachlan is currently researching Marine Protected Areas and shark conservation in Jervis Bay.

Dr Quentin Hanich is an Associate Professor and Fisheries Governance Program Leader in UOW's Australian Centre for Ocean Resources and Security (ANCORS), part of the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts.  His background is in fisheries governance and marine conservation.

Dr Andrew Warren is a lecturer in Human Geography in the Faculty of Social Sciences. He is a human geographer whose works focuses on regional development and socio-economic change.  Andrew is currently collaborating with Dr Leah Gibbs on the cultures and politics of human-shark encounter and ocean use.  

Lachlan and Matt coordinate the Fishthinkers research group.  Follow them on Instagram

Last reviewed: 23 September, 2016

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