'Relief' as shark nets fast-tracked
BALLINA surfer Dan Webber was sitting just 5m from 17-year-old Cooper Allen when the teen was attacked out of the blue by a white shark in late September.
"It was so unexpected... the water was absolutely crystal clear... seemed like paradise, and all of a sudden this monster comes out of the deep," Mr Webber said.
It wasn't his first close encounter with a shark attack either - he was also surfing off Lighthouse Beach when Mat Lee was attacked in July 2015.
The cumulative shock of those experiences has kept the normally avid surfer out of the water all but twice in the last month.
"I was really struggling to get the attack out of my mind... It totally rattled me," he said.
But now, with the NSW Government's announcement shark nets will be installed off Ballina's beaches before Christmas, Webber is looking forward to surfing again.
He described the government's decision as "life changing" for him.
"It's heartbreaking to look at the surf and be afraid to go for a surf."
"I'm hoping this will get me back in the water... surfing is just a huge part of my life," he said.
Mr Webber said shark attacks had a much bigger effect on the community than people realised.
"I don't think people appreciate how much it impacts us psychologically, it's not just surfers, it's the whole community, the police, the paramedics, family members.
"It's hard to deny the emotional effect on the community."
Ballina mayor David Wright has also welcomed the rollout of shark nets with the caveat that if the impact on local marine life is too great the trial will be halted.
The Department of Primary Industries has committed to checking the nets for by-catch more frequently than the 72-hour timeframe they allow in the rest of the state.
They are also fitted with dolphin "pingers", but say there is no guarantee some dolphins won't become ensnared.
Cr Wright said he fully backed the NSW Government and the DPI on their action to date.
"I have spoken to DPI hundreds of times in the last 12 months," he said. "The amount of time their scientists have spent up here is incredible."
"I'm quite certain if (the nets) start causing problems, then they'll say 'it's not working, we'll try something else'."
He also pointed out the majority of people supported the nets in surveys by the DPI.
"I feel we've got to give it a go."
"I think we've got to put something in to make sure we've got people coming for Christmas."
But not everyone is in support of the nets.
Surfer Mark Hernage, president of the Ballina-Lennox branch of the Surfrider Foundation, said it was "disappointing" that the government was trialling a measure that both would impact marine life and wasn't statistically proven to protect people.
"(Lighthouse) beach is 650m wide, and there is a 150m net there, which is less than a quarter of the beach," Mr Hernage said.
"Animals can still swim over the top of it and around it. I won't feel any safer having that technology put in.
"In Sydney, the shark nets aren't even in the water for several months of the year, and there is no attacks.
"So they're 'protecting people' when they're not even there."
"I think it's a placebo basically, (the government) has got to be seen to be doing something."
Australian Seabird Rescue also rallied against the introduction of nets in Ballina last month at Lighthouse Beach.
ASR North Coast general manager Kathrina Southwell said then shark nets would be "gravely harmful" to turtles and could counteract the organisation's rescue attempts.
"They would undermine the years of work Australian Seabird Rescue has done and all the money that's been donated would be thrown out the window," Ms Southwell said.