Reef tourists brave wa­ters as shark-hit tourist firms snap at me­dia

The Weekend Australian - - THE NATION - CHAR­LIE PEEL

Still reel­ing from a fa­tal shark at­tack on Mon­day, the trou­bled Whit­sun­days tourism com­mu­nity has lashed out at a new en­emy out­side of the wa­ter, crit­i­cis­ing me­dia cov­er­age of the at­tack.

Air­lie Beach tour op­er­a­tors, con­cerned about the re­gion’s rep­u­ta­tion fol­low­ing the third shark at­tack since Septem­ber, re­fused to speak to the me­dia and some were openly hos­tile to­wards jour­nal­ists ahead of a meet­ing yes­ter­day be­tween min­is­ters and of­fi­cials, univer­sity ex­perts and in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Sev­eral busi­ness own­ers said they had been pres­sured by in­dus­try fig­ures not to com­ment.

The gov­ern­ment threw its own net over the pro­ceed­ings, lock­ing lo­cal Whit­sun­day MP Ja­son Costi­gan and Lib­eral Na­tional Party en­vi­ron­ment and tourism spokesman David Crisa­fulli out of the po­lit­i­cally charged round­table meet­ing.

Mel­bourne doc­tor Daniel Chris­tidis, 33, died on Mon­day night af­ter he was mauled by a shark as he swam at Cid Har­bour about 5.30pm. On Septem­ber 19, Tas­ma­nian mother of two Jus­tine Bar­wick, 46, was bit­ten on the left thigh at Cid Har­bour and un­der­went 18 hours of surgery. The next day, Han­nah Papps, 12, from Mel­bourne, was bit­ten while swim­ming in shal­low wa­ter in the same area. She later had a leg am­pu­tated.

Baited drum­lines were in­stalled around Cid Har­bour af­ter the sec­ond at­tack but re­moved about a week later af­ter six sharks were caught. Yes­ter­day, tourism op­er­a­tors of­fered a quick “no com- ment” when asked what mea­sures they felt should be put in place.

Speak­ing off the record, some busi­ness own­ers said they had been told by in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives not to talk to the me­dia.

Mr Costi­gan said tour op­er­a­tors had been “gagged” from shar­ing their views. The state gov­ern­ment, Tourism and Events Queens­land and Whit­sun­days Tourism de­nied giv­ing the di­rec­tive. Man­age­ment at Abel Point Ma­rina barred re­porters from the premises.

Ma­rina staff closely mon­i­tored re­porters who cov­ered the open­ing of the gov­ern­ment meet­ing, and a press con­fer­ence sched­uled at the ma­rina was moved off site.

Af­ter yes­ter­day’s meet­ing, Tourism Min­is­ter Kate Jones and Fish­eries Min­is­ter Mark Furner an­nounced the gov­ern­ment would con­trib­ute $250,000 to­wards re­search into shark num­bers in the har­bour, which would be main­tained as a no-swim zone, launch a shark safety ed­u­ca­tion cam­paign and con­tinue to meet with the in­dus­try to de­velop re­sponses.

The gov­ern­ment has re­jected the LNP’s call for per­ma­nent drum­lines at Cid Har­bour. LNP Leader Deb Freck­ling­ton called for a par­lia­men­tary in­quiry into the state’s shark con­trol pro­gram and said the gov­ern­ment re­sponse to the at­tacks was “out of touch, neg­li­gent and ir­re­spon­si­ble”.

Ahead of a three-day snorkelling trip, English tourists Don Ford, 19, and Will McKay, 20, told The Week­end Aus­tralian they had seen in­for­ma­tion about the at­tack on the news but were not aware of the at­tacks in Septem­ber.

“Some friends went on a daytrip (snorkelling) yes­ter­day and they said it’s fine, you’ve just got to be care­ful and lis­ten to what the guides say,” Mr McKay said.

French tourist Ir­win Ben­nejean said he knew there had been an at­tack at “one of the is­lands” but planned to swim only where tour op­er­a­tors told him was OK.

CAMERON LAIRD

Tourists Roya Ibrahimi from Ger­many and Ir­win Ben­nejean from France; cen­tre, the LNP’s David Crisa­fulli and Ja­son Costi­gan cri­tique shark-con­trol mea­sures; Tourism Min­is­ter Kate Jones, right, speaks at a meet­ing at Air­lie Beach yes­ter­day

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