Queensland tourism operators in uncharted waters after third Cid Harbour shark attack

| 07.11,18. 01:15 PM |

Queensland tourism operators in uncharted waters after third Cid Harbour shark attack

Photo: Daniel Christidis died after being attacked by a shark at Cid Harbour. (Twitter)

As arguments continue over what needs to be done in response to a fatal shark attack at Cid Harbour in the Whitsundays, Queensland tourism operators say it is too early to tell if the recent spate of shark attacks will hit visitor numbers.

Melbourne medical researcher Daniel Christidis, 33, died on Monday night after being mauled while paddleboarding and swimming at Cid Harbour in the third shark attack in that location in just six weeks.

His former colleagues at Melbourne's Austin Hospital were "absolutely reeling" at news of his death, a spokesperson said last night.

North Queensland's tourism industry said there were no obvious signs of a backlash to the attacks, but even before Dr Christidis was named as the man who died, there were indications some local operators had serious concerns.

Numerous charter boat operators were sensitive enough about the attacks to refuse the ABC's attempts yesterday to charter a boat out to Cid Harbour, amid concern about adverse media attention on the region.

Whitsunday Tourism told the ABC they asked operators in the region to alert them of cancellations or negative feedback they received as a result of the spate of shark attacks.

Local dive boat operator Tony Fontes said it was important the industry was open about the warnings but that he had not seen any negative impacts since the first attack in September.

"People are willing to take the risk of swimming in waters that are potential risk of a jellyfish, using precautions like stinger suits, and I'm sure that tourists will do the same with sharks," he said.

Yesterday, Queensland Tourism Minister Kate Jones rebuffed calls for permanent drum lines at Cid Harbour, saying the measure would not guarantee swimmer safety.

Experts agreed, with Brisbane-based marine biologist Blake Chapman saying it was best for people to stay away from the area while researchers studied the "unprecedented" spate of attacks.

"We really need to be smarter than what we have been and actually learn from these things as opposed to just going out and killing animals," Dr Chapman said.

"I can understand they [drum lines] could've helped the public fear … so I can sort of understand why they went in, [but] I think it was a wise decision to take them out."

Photo: Marine biologist Dr Blake Chapman said killing sharks was not the best response to the attacks. (ABC News: Tim Swanston)

Dr Chapman said a number of factors including the movement and number of bait fish in the area, water temperature and increased rainfall could have played a role in a rising shark presence around Cid Harbour.

"Every time you have a series of bites, it's usually because of something that's changed within the environment or something that will affect or change the shark's behaviour," Dr Chapman said.

"We need to be looking back over the last couple months … what's changed?"

Barbara Wueringer, from Cairns-based Sharks and Rays Australia, agreed the main question was what could have brought them into the area, and triggered them to feed on humans.

"Sharks are large predators that can move long distances, so it's not surprising that there are sharks in the area," Dr Wueringer said.

"What is surprising is that they would actually then bite humans, because we're not a part of their natural prey spectrum.

"The chances of [drum lines] actually catching the predator that was responsible for the bite are really, really low."

Mr Fontes said it would take some heavy science to find the answers, which may never come.

"Let's avoid Cid Harbour 100 per cent until we get a handle on what's causing this outbreak," he said.

"We need to sit back though, as a community and take a deep breath and move ahead with a considered response, not a knee-jerk reaction like we did last time with the culling.

"The majority of people from last time [in September] were very much against the drum lines."

Craig Barwick, the husband of Cid Harbour shark attack survivor Justine Barwick, has said previously while drum lines were an understandable solution, sharks play an important role in the ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef.

Restrictions on catching sharks

The Queensland Department of Fisheries said that in tidal waters recreational fishers can catch sharks no larger than 1.5 metres, with a possession limit of one shark or ray per person.

Great white and grey nurse sharks are prohibited from being caught and must be cut free.

Owner of Seaforth Island Charters, Ardie Lovern, said the restrictions would mean more frequent shark attacks along the Queensland coastline.

"The sharks are out there now, we've protected the big ones so obviously there's going to be a lot more breeders around which will increase numbers," he said.

"There's got to be a balance somewhere because you can't just protect a topline predator and expect there not to be flow-on effects."

But Mr Lovern said a number of factors could have led to the most recent attack.

"We've got turtle breeding season coming up now so this time of year I personally would not swim in the inshore waters," he said.

"I actually saw a four-metre shark off the beach at Seaforth, in the Mackay region, on Sunday so they're definitely out and about."


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