Clearing up the Confusion: Understanding the Differences between Shark Nets and Shark Barriers

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2023-02-14 7:39 by Envoy: Shark Cull

There are significant differences between shark nets and shark barriers. However, in practice, the terms 'shark nets' and 'shark barriers' are mistakenly used interchangeably.

It is important to understand the differences between shark nets and shark barriers because the specific design and technology used in a given system can have significant implications for its effectiveness, safety, and environmental impact.

For example, different types of shark-deterrent systems may have different levels of efficacy in keeping sharks away from popular swimming areas. In addition, some systems may have unintended consequences, such as entangling and killing marine life or impacting local ecosystems.

By understanding the differences between shark nets and shark barriers, people can make informed decisions about which systems to use and how to use them effectively and responsibly. In addition, understanding the differences is vital for ensuring the safety of ocean swimmers and minimising the impact of shark-deterrent systems on the marine environment.

Differentiating between shark nets and shark barriers can also promote informed public discourse about shark incident prevention and management. It also leads to better-informed policy decisions, more effective management of ocean swimming areas, and a greater understanding of the importance of balancing safety, environmental protection, and ocean conservation.


There are different types of shark barriers. Generally, shark barriers are entirely enclosed to stop sharks from entering an area. Enclosed systems can range from small, localised systems designed to protect a specific swimming area to larger, more complex systems designed to protect entire beaches or bays.

Shark barriers do not entangle or harm any animals and are designed to enable fish and other small marine life to transit through the barrier. In addition, new and emerging technologies use durable materials, mimic underwater environments, use strong magnetic fields and other methods to deter sharks.

Older-style shark barriers have been in use in Australia since the early 1900s. Older-style enclosed barriers are made of a variety or combination of materials such as steel, wood and even net material that is pulled tight between posts to avoid animals getting entangled.

In some areas, the older-style shark barriers, particularly those that use netting-style material to enclose an area completely, are locally but incorrectly referred to as shark nets, and this is where some of the confusion between the use of the terms "shark nets" and "shark barriers" originated.

While the specific design and technology used in a shark barrier system can vary, the goal is generally to create a defined and safe, controlled swimming environment that reduces the risk of people encountering sharks without harming animals.


Shark nets were first used on the Australian east coast in the early 1930s. At that time, we didn't understand that sharks were migratory, so it was believed that culling sharks would protect swimmers at beaches. Thanks to science, we now know this is false. Shark nets have also changed over time. In the 1930s, shark nets were much larger than they are today. Some attempts were made to enclose areas with shark nets, but that didn't work well due to weather, maintenance and other problems.

So over the years, the nets that became know as 'shark nets' have gotten smaller and smaller and are now small nets that hang in the water column 500 meters off popular beaches. Shark nets are 120 to 180 meters long, depending on whether in NSW or QLD, and hang about 6 meters down in 12-meter deep water.

In NSW, shark nets are set on the ocean floor but do not reach the surface. In QLD, they start at the surface but do not reach the ocean floor.

There are two significant problems with shark nets. First, scientific evidence states that shark nets and culling sharks DO NOT keep swimmers safe. Since 2000, more than 80% of shark incidents on the NSW coast have occurred at netted beaches. Second, shark nets are indiscriminate killers. This leads to approximately 90% bycatch, including harmless sharks, turtles, dolphins, seals, whales, penguins, and sea birds drowning in shark nets.

Most Australians continue to misunderstand the differences and nuances between 'shark nets' and 'shark barriers'. Understanding the differences is vital for ensuring the safety of ocean swimmers and minimising the impact of shark-deterrent systems on the marine environment.

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