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