Boosting SharkSmart behaviours in the Whitsundays

Project update December 2020

Following several shark bites in the Whitsundays from 2018 to 2019, the Queensland Government commissioned research to understand the prevalence and behaviour of sharks in the Whitsundays. In conjunction with this research, Fisheries Queensland commissioned Reef Ecologic to work with key stakeholders in the Whitsundays to investigate how water users such as boaties, fishers, swimmers and divers could reduce their risk and be SharkSmart. The project began in November 2019 and continues to early 2021.

Project kick off

In late 2019 Reef Ecologic led collaborative workshops with the Whitsundays community to gather knowledge and ideas. The workshops were attended by fishers, boat operators, tourism industry representatives, local tour guides and interested community members. Feedback from workshop attendees was used to develop a SharkSmart seasonal calendar which mapped key natural events throughout each season including water visibility, cyclones, turtle nesting and shark breeding. The workshops identified a key SharkSmart behaviour in the Whitsundays is to avoid throwing fish waste and food scraps overboard, because scraps and waste may attract sharks to boats. The next stage of the project was to support water users to adopt SharkSmart behaviours.

Supporting SharkSmart behaviours on charter boats

Following a pause due to COVID-19, the project resumed in September 2020 with the Reef Ecologic team working with the charter boat industry to promote SharkSmart behaviours. Three charter boat operators took up the challenge to help their guests understand the importance of following SharkSmart advice while enjoying their trip.

SharkSmart tools including a pre-trip video, stickers, posters and dedicated waste disposal bags were given to two of the operators, with the third acting as a control group. Surveys were conducted before and after SharkSmart tools were introduced to measure changes in awareness and behaviour.

Response to the SharkSmart tools provided has been positive with surveys demonstrating an increased level of awareness of SharkSmart behaviours among charter boat guests. Early survey results indicate that there is 100 per cent awareness of survey respondents not to swim at Cid Harbour, the site of three shark bites in 2018. A comparison of pre and post project surveys show the number of charter boat guests disposing of fish scraps and food waste overboard has decreased.

Next steps

The project continues until the end of January 2021. Project results will be reviewed and summarised in a report with recommendations to guide future behaviour change projects for water users.