Whitsundays regular Mark Laforest says he will no longer swim to shore from his yacht following a spate of recent shark attacks in Queensland, including a fatal one this week, which have raised fears of permanent damage to state’s multibillion-dollar tourism industry.
While the Palaszczuk government and tourism operators held a “shark summit” in Airlie Beach on Friday to work out a long-term solution to the attacks, which killed a Victorian doctor this week, Mr Laforest made up his own mind.
After years travelling through the Whitsundays on his yacht, the founder of software company Medical Business Systems, who splits his time between homes in Tasmania and Noosa, is going to steer clear of the crystal clear water, no matter how tempting it is to take a quick dip after a long day’s sailing.
Previously, he would swim the 300 metres to shore when anchoring at Cid Harbour.
“I won’t be doing it now. You’d be off your rocker to get in there now. This is pretty heavy. It’s the talk of the town here and people are pretty anxious,” Mr Laforest told AFR Weekend from Hamilton Island.
Tourism authorities have warned swimmers not to swim in Cid Harbour, on the western side of Whitsundays Island, but Mr Laforest says he wouldn’t be swimming anywhere near the surrounding islands, which attract tourists from across Australia and the world.
“I don’t know what is special about Cid Harbour, maybe it’s a bit murkier, but I don’t think there is an attraction of sharks just to there,” he said.
‘It will change my behaviour’
“It’s never been an issue before. But if I want to jump off the back of the boat now it will be within one metre of the ladder and I will be back on the boat within five nanoseconds. People might forget this attack, but in the long term it will change my behaviour here. I’ll be a lot more cautious.”
Victorian doctor Daniel Christidis, 33, was killed by a shark about 5.30pm last Monday, only seconds after he jumped off a paddleboard he had been on with a female friend. He had been with a group of 10 friends on a charter boat that had anchored at CID Harbour.
It follows two other non-fatal attacks – on 46-year-old Justine Barwick and 12-year-old Hannah Papps – in the same bay in September.
Locals and tourism operators are split between the need for permanent drum lines – or even a shark cull – to control shark numbers. Scientists are also baffled about why there has been a spate of attacks in the same spot only a few months apart. The previous shark fatality in Queensland was a diver off Port Douglas in 2014 and before that a young woman at North Stradbroke Island near Brisbane in 2006.
Tourism Industry Development Minister Kate Jones on Friday said the Labor government would allocate $250,000 towards scientific research into shark prevalence and behaviour in Cid Harbour and maintaining a no-swim zone in the harbour until the assessment was complete.
There would also be a high-profile education campaign to educate visitors and locals about shark safety.
“The recent shark attacks in Cid Harbour were unprecedented and demonstrate that we need to do more to understand shark behaviours,” she said.
“The Whitsundays is one of the most beautiful places in the world and we want to make sure people are as safe as possible when they come to visit.”
Reliant on tourists
But with the region reliant on tourists each year, the tourism industry is petrified about the implications of global headlines focusing on the shark attacks in the Whitsundays. It was previously seen as safe for jumping off boats and swimming.
World-famous Hamilton Island and its string of resorts is only 10 kilometres from Cid Harbour and was supposed to be hosting its annual triathlon and Whitehaven Beach two-kilometre ocean swim next weekend.
Hamilton Island chief executive Glenn Bourke was not available for comment. But a spokeswoman for Hamilton Island said the ocean swim and triathlon would be going ahead, with “increased surveillance” from the air and on the water. They are offering a full refund to competitors who wish to pull out before next weekend’s event.
Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said tourism authorities needed to “take rational steps to minimise the risk” by being upfront with visitors.
“Operators are worried about this. It’s not the sort of thing you want to be in the headlines for, but we are worried about the longer-term reputations and association of the reef with some primordial fear,” he said.
“Consumers need to understand there are risks with all travel, but we will try and look after them and minimise the risks.”