Southern Cross University Diving Officer and Associate Lecturer Simon Hartley says that the incident this week involving a shark with a fishing gaff embedded in its throat could easily happen again.

Simon, who supervises undergraduate marine-related projects at the university, was one of the divers who first spotted the distressed shark near Julian Rocks and was commissioned by Seaworld to carry out underwater filming of its dramatic rescue on Wednesday.

When he’s not working, Simon joins around 15 Southern Cross University staff and students to help conduct fish surveys and clean-up dives with the Byron Underwater Research Group (BURG) — with some worrying results.

“On average, we dive once a month off the coast of Byron mainly, but also at Tweed and near the Seaway on the Gold Coast, and one whole corner of my office is taken up with a big pile of rubbish we have collected in the last few months,” said Simon.

“By far the most common form of marine debris is fishing line.

“I was taking some photos of invertebrates and fish the other day and when I got back to the office I realised every picture had some fishing line in it.

“In the case of sharks, they congregate where the fish are, so the risk of them ingesting a small recreational fishing hook is high, which can cause internal bleeding that can kill in a matter of minutes.″

The effect on wildlife can be devastating, with birds, turtles and even larger marine wildlife like dolphins and whales becoming entangled in litter.

“Unfortunately it only takes a small amount of plastic to block the gut of a turtle and eventually kill it,” Simon said.

“It’s very difficult to estimate the numbers – for as many as we find, many more swim or float out to sea.

“Things like fishing tackle can even affect corals, because the algae can grow over it and eventually kill the organism below.”

But Simon assures us the outlook is not all gloomy.

“Everyone can do their bit by respecting marine park areas, trying to avoid snagging fishing lines where possible and reporting any wildlife that is injured in any way to local wildlife organisations or their state’s fisheries department,” he said.

“The Byron Underwater Research Group is doing some great work like educating divers on techniques that help to minimise their impact on the coral and marine life, and people who are really interested can join up.”

To join or contact the Byron Underwater Research Group, call Public Officer Gerard Braithwaite on 02 6684 1843.

PICTURE: A Byron Under Water Research diver collects rubbish from the Tweed River.